Childhood’s tiny treasures

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I didn’t expect to love holding marker caps, or the tops of acorns, or the shiny foil of an opened Hershey Kiss.

My life is full of tiny things, unexpected bits and baubles — little treasures collected by my children and tucked into pockets, both theirs and mine. I find them in the pants pockets and stacked on chairs.

Oliver, my wild bird, is a collector of sparkly things. He likes pawing through my jewelry box to unearth my college ring: a thick band with a ruby at its center. It’s engraved with my initials and graduation year, though my thirty-something eyes don’t find the tiny letters as easily these days. I’ve caught Ollie many times trying to squirrel it away. I keep little from them, but I don’t want that ring to disappear like so many marbles and buttons before it.

“Mommy, when I’m five, I can have your college ring?” Oliver will ask. Five is going to be a big year for Oliver; it’s the age he’ll be driving the minivan and chopping vegetables himself, too.

Hadley is also getting in on the act. She loves to carry around LEGO people, one she’s even dubbed “Mommy,” and has a collection of plastic “Sesame Street” characters in the cupholder of her car seat. I find Goldfish tucked away, presumably for later, and round game pieces hidden in the trunk of a tricycle.

She and Ollie build their nests — one busted piece of jewelry at a time.

Marker caps are new. Hadley loves to draw: bold lines and dots like pattering raindrops on cloudy white paper. She will make the smallest movement with a pen, adding a pink swoosh here or a yellow circle there. She hands each lid to me as she works, careful not to get ink on her tiny fingers.

I’m cautious with the lids, waiting with uncharacteristic patience as she draws. We don’t want to the markers to dry out, I gently say.

And Hadley smiles, nods, adds more dots to her scene. She trusts that these, too, will be safe.

 

 

‘Home Alone’ wisdom: Or why you should go ahead and use those crayons. Or wear the Rollerblades.


Of all the seasonal movies I remember loving as a kid, “Home Alone” — and its awesome successor, “Home Alone 2: Lost In New York” — stand above all the others. Though I’ve always considered myself a weird, too-philosophical-for-my-own-good sort of kid, “Home Alone 2” really helped solidify my role as an obsessive thinker.

I’ve heard some wise things in my day. Beyond the customary books that topple over with their enlightened principles, religious overtones and inspirational advice, I’ve formed my own mantras for getting through the day with (most of) my sanity intact. My favorite is “Be Here Now,” a thought expressed on a print I recently bought and plan to hang in my room.

No philosophical uttering has impacted me more than the thoughts of one Kevin McCallister, though. The warm words he exchanged with a bird lady in the rafters of a symphony in New York City have never left me. Lost and away from his family over Christmas, Kevin is shuttling around the Big Apple blowing his dad’s cash on private ice cream bars and plotting the downfall of two bumbling crooks still smarting from having been outwitted by the little guy the previous year.

When he’s not craftily getting out of crazy situations, Kevin is befriending random folks — and is totally wise beyond his years. Any 10-year-old able to check into the Plaza Hotel and keep up the charade for days isn’t your average dummy.

So I shouldn’t be shocked when Kevin teaches the brokenhearted woman one of the most important lessons of my young life.


Bird Lady: I’m just afraid if I do trust someone, I’ll get my heart broken.

Kevin: I understand. I had a nice pair of Rollerblades. I was afraid to wreck them, so I kept them in a box. Do you know what happened? I outgrew them. I never wore them outside. Only in my room a few times.

Bird Lady: A person’s heart and feelings are very different than skates.

Kevin: They’re kind of the same thing. If you won’t use your heart, who cares if it gets broken? If you just keep it to yourself, maybe it’ll be like my Rollerblades. When you do decide to try it, it won’t be any good. You should take a chance. Got nothing to lose.


I spend a good deal of time sifting through options until I reach just the right conclusion. Sometimes I’m so afraid of making a wrong decision that I do nothing — itself a choice. I try to be practiced and careful. Measured. An example of careful planning.

But that can be exhausting.

When I was 10 myself, I got an art set for my birthday. At least, I think it was my birthday — I’m not even sure anymore. We’ve gone through our childhood belongings countless times, donating to charity what we no longer want or need, but somehow this set has survived every purge.

Opening it for the first time and gazing in at the neat rows of colored pencils, pastels and crayons, I was euphoric. The possibilities! I thought. The beautiful possibilities! I was so enamored with this set that I never wanted to use it, and I certainly wouldn’t share it with my little sister. She just didn’t have any respect for my belongings, you know? (Younger siblings rarely do.)

When I wanted to color or design an art poster, I reached for my well-worn boxes of Crayola Crayons rather than the gorgeous, clean kit at my elbow. The colored pencils stayed sharp. The Crayons were unbroken and pristine in their packaging. Water never struck the watercolors, and no page was ever adorned in acrylic smears.

Everything was new, clean. Perfect and unchanged.

Years went by. I stopped coloring. Though I often talk about how I can’t wait to have kids so I can do stuff like draw again, guilt-free, it’s all a very long way off.

I think of coloring and I smile: I mean, who can dislike the electricity of changing a black-and-white image to Technicolor? It’s like owning the first color television on the block. Discovering Lucille Ball is a redhead. Following Dorothy as she swirls from Kansas and lands in effervescent Oz.

And then I thought, Why am I delaying my happiness? Why am I denying myself the free, innocent fun of something like coloring? Who cares if I’m 26. If I’m an uncoordinated artist with no talent for art. If I’m awful at staying in the lines and developing color schemes.

I wanted to color.



Katie found my art set, tucked inside a neat shelf in my mother’s crafting room. I’d purchased a set of color-your-own postcards on a whim this month and wanted to work on my project while watching “Christmas Vacation.” My fingers were itching to color, to blend hues and textures, and my sister slipped me a grin when handing me the set. “Well, you could always use this,” she said.

I opened it again — 10, 15 years later. The markers, usually the first to fade and wither, were my first target. I dotted the back of my left hand with purple circles, testing to see if they would still work. They’re all still capped. The markers mark. The pencils and crayons are still sharp, the ruler still nestled tight in its bed.

My set is clean and orderly. Planned. And though my instinct was to keep them just so, I swallowed it down. I fought it.

Why shouldn’t I wear my Rollerblades outside?

Why shouldn’t I press every Crayon down to its oily beginnings?



I colored one postcard, then another. Then I found a Christmas coloring book and drew in that, too. I pushed hard on the pencils, dulling them, and sketched long lines across blank sheets of paper. I mussed them up. I used them. I used them in a way I would never allow my measured, careful 10-year-old self to use anything.

It felt so good.

It’s almost Christmas and I’m tired, stressed, a little worried. Sometimes so much seems beyond my control — hard to explain, hard to process. Like everyone, I have the slivers of fears that wake me up at 5 a.m., tossing and staring at the shadows on my ceiling.

But I know one thing, something stronger than I’ve ever known: I don’t want to be the type of person who only wears her Rollerblades in the cushy comfort of her childhood bedroom. I don’t want to unearth an art set in two decades to discover I never created any art at all.

Use the crayons. Ride the bike. Take the trip. Eat the expensive chocolate. Drink the fine wine.

Enjoy your life.

“Embrace the bonfire,” a classmate wrote in my high school yearbook, “without fear of being burned.”

And that is all I want to do.


Cover art: Let’s chow down

I’m not going to dance around the issue here, friends: your girl Meg likes to eat. I come from a long line of very fine folks who enjoy a good meal, I’ll add, and no — that’s not a reference to weight! I mean, we just like food. My grandmother Wilma loads us up on the meaty stuff, piling cabbage rolls and stews on me, while my grandmother Margy provides all the sweets: sugar cookies, white chocolate-covered pretzels and her famous peanut butter cups, most especiallly.

We’re no slackers in my house, either. Brownies and ice cream are usually milling about, and Spencer and I love baking. I’m improving my own culinary skills slowly but steadily, and I’m looking forward to the day I can prepare a whole meal — from scratch. (When I have the time. So, you know, maybe never.)

So it makes sense that, when browsing for books, my eye goes straight to anything featuring a delicious treat. In fact, just the knowledge that a book features food — or a chef, baker, etc. — is enough to entice me to pick it up.

Inspired by Kay’s lovely “Artsy Shelf” posts at The Infinite Shelf, I’ve been keeping my little brown eyes peeled for any cover art that looked so good I would, well, want to take a bite. A giant one. And it just turns out the some of the covers I remember best of the hundreds (thousands?) I’ve seen feature something delectable-looking. And most of the time? Well, as you’ll see, we’re talking cupcakes.

Some of these books I’ve read — and some I haven’t. If they’ve worked their way onto my bookcase or wishlist, it’s probably because I thought they sounded like an appropriate blend of delicious food and awesome storytelling. Here’s to hoping I’m right.


Are you attracted to cover art featuring food? Why or why not?


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Book review: ‘Blankets’ by Craig Thompson

It’s rare to find a novel that so succeeds in reaching right into your chest and yanking your heart out, but Craig Thompson’s Blankets did just that.

This graphic novel is an autobiographical look at Thompson’s young life, beginning with his early days growing up in a strict Christian household in Wisconsin and sharing a bed with his little brother Phil to entering high school as an awkward adolescent, eventually arriving at church camp — where he meets the lovely and troubled Raina, the young woman with whom he falls hopelessly in love. Blankets is a story of family, pain, suffering, abuse, religion, love — and moving beyond those things to form your own identity.

And it spoke to me — and stuck with me. I borrowed this monster of a novel (600+ pages) from the library, rushing over on my lunch break to grab my copy. By 10 p.m. that evening, after many fits and starts with regular life getting in the way, I’d closed the final page. But that doesn’t mean I’ll ever forget what I saw.

Thompson’s look at love is stunning; his portrayal of his relationship with Raina encompasses so many of the sensations and fears that accompany falling in love for the first time. Walking through this story visually — as opposed to a traditional book — was a really different but enlightening experience. As I hunkered down in my favorite chair with Blankets propped precariously in my lap, my mom walked by and squinted at it.

“What are you reading?” she asked. “Is that a big coloring book?”

No — definitely not. The novel lacks any color at all, but it doesn’t need it; everything is there, inside the bold blacks and whites of Thompson’s lines — and maybe outside them, too. It’s a story about permanence, change and the danger that comes with loving. It’s about loss. And to me? About what we can — and can’t — be for each other. Especially in those early relationships, how can we know which crevices to fill — or how to love each other enough? Can it ever be enough? Can it heal the wounds that opened long before we ever arrived, holding our arms open to this person?

How can we know it’s forever?

We can’t. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less beautiful.

And now that I’ve waxed philosophical about this novel, first recommended to me by Lu at Regular Rumination, I’ll add for those who don’t traditionally read or enjoy graphic novels: trust me, I’ve been in your ranks for a very long time. And I won’t say that Blankets will completely convert you to the graphic novel genre, because I can’t say that I prefer it to a traditional novel (or ever will). But Thompson’s story is too gorgeous to be missed.



5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1891830430 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Copy borrowed from my local library at Lu’s recommendation

Book review: ‘A Painter’s Life’ by K.B. Dixon

It’s hard to put a novel like K.B. Dixon’s A Painter’s Life in a neat, tidy box. In fact, I think that would be impossible. It’s a short, almost genre-less glimpse of the life of one man — the titular painter — and his struggles with creativity, success and marriage, and the vignettes that serve as the novel’s story are crisp and thought-provoking.

Christopher Freeze has achieved notoriety in art circles for his unconventional, often surprising works of art, and the novel functions as a glimpse of both the man and the artist. Through a series of vignettes, each chapter opens with a portion of Freeze’s biography, a work-in-progress by a professor who speaks with Freeze regularly. The artist has a hard time understanding why anyone would want to know who he is personally, so his stories and snippets of conversation with Alan Barnes come across as caustic. But we know Freeze isn’t really that way.

Interspersed with the biographical information are excerpts from Freeze’s “unpublished journals” — spaces in which he can tell his own story. These passages range in content from stories about dinner with friends to musings on the art world and criticism to recountings of troubles with his art dealer, Charles Safadi, and are often unintentionally humorous. As a reader, I got the sense that Christopher wouldn’t want me to think he was funny — not at all, in fact — but he seems like just the serious-faced character who would utter a random, hilarious line and make me laugh my head off.

But the book certainly didn’t send me into spasms of laughter. Freeze’s quotes — and the story of his life — were very interesting, but often tinged with sadness. I found myself pausing over most of his journal snippets to think about art, life and love. Christopher seems lonely and isolated, though he’s always meeting with friends or talking with Sarah, his wife. At several points in the story, our narrator admits that life with him must be difficult — and I wondered more about Sarah and her personal struggles. We’re only given a look at her experiences through Christopher’s own journal entries. 

Like many people who create art, whether through portraits, novels or installations, Freeze spends a good deal of time thinking about what art actually is. One of my favorites quotes:

It is impossible as a painter or photographer not to be seduced by nature — not to be rendered a drooling perpetrator of cliches.

How right you are! And lovers of art will find plenty to enjoy in Dixon’s A Painter’s Life. I did occasionally feel disoriented while reading, as if I were handed a stack of random Polaroids — all taken from a different moment in one man’s life — and asked to assemble them chronologically. But I have a feeling this was intentional — and part of the magic of the story. While the novel doesn’t exactly take a “twist” in its final chapters, Dixon does divulge some information about Freeze’s past that made me completely rethink who he was as an artist and a person — and I thought that was pretty masterful.

Overall, a novel I’ll be thinking about more as time goes on — and probably return to when I want to ponder art for art’s sake. Or just want to grab some great quotable quotes.


4 out of 5!

ISBN: 1592994482 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Information
Review copy provided by author

Etsy find Fridays: Books as art

It’s happened again . . . I’m bored with my room. Since the big redesign, cleaning and purging of June ’09, I’ve been reasonably happy with the set-up of my books and furniture, but something new is irking me: I need new art. Like, yesterday. Because all the posters from the plays in which I performed in high school, oh, ten years ago? It’s time to move beyond. I’m ready.

So I’ve spent the better part of my Black Friday looking at art on Etsy, my most favorite of all online retailers. Doing a search for “print” will give you about seven million trillion results, so don’t put yourself through that. I’ve been looking for something that screams “MEG!” (or, you know, gently shouts it?) to hang in place of all the random memorabilia currently scattered on my walls.

Being the consummate book lover you all know and love, this inevitably led me to search for book-related prints — and I certainly have my options! Join in the fun and help me decide. Or just order these right out from under me, basically stealing my art- and book-related joy. You know, whichever.


Where The Wild Things Are upcycled book page by wallenvyart, $16

Emma is fascinated with The Great Gatsby by flapperdoodle, $10

"Shakespeare In Paris" fine art photograph by AliciaBock, $35

"Ideal Bookshelf 2" print by janemount, $25

The Library print of original sketch by NestaHome, $25

Books print by theblackapple, $16