Friday, October 13, 2023

Curling up like a sow bug

We're leaving for Tucson in a few weeks. The Seattle rains have started, and the Tucson temperatures have dropped below 100 degrees, so it's time.

Last spring I told my Tucson friend JoAnne (actually, she's from St. Louis but she and her husband spend the winter in the same retirement community as we do) that I would take a beginning drawing class this year. JoAnne is a fearless kind of person and she tries all kinds of things, and she said I should try it. I promised her I would.

Ten years ago or so I was in a writers' group here in Seattle. We'd taken a certificate program in nonfiction writing at the University of Washington, and after the program ended we decided to meet up regularly to continue writing together. Mostly it was conversation, with a little bit of writing. I called it the "apologetic writers' group" because we often apologized to each other for not having written anything since our last meeting.

Then we started doing "20 minute writes" during our meetings. We'd pick a topic and then write for 20 minutes, and then read what we'd written to each other.

Here's what I wrote on April 28, 2014:


Well, I don't know about you, but in the family I was raised in we all had our roles. Me and my sister, we was kind of labeled by our folks from a young age. I was the smart one, but they also thought I was lazy and selfish and disagreeable. My sister Moo Moo was the creative one. She was younger than me and my Mama liked her best. It wasn't just me that thought that. Even Mama's friends thought so. They told me that right at Mama's wake. "You sure did get the short end of your Mama's kind thoughts," they said. I knew that already, but Mama was dead by now so it didn't matter so much. Just a little.

Didn't much matter that I toed the straight and narrow most of my life and Moo Moo was a wild and crazy one. I was quieter and just did my life in kind of a rule-following way, not doing chancy kinds of things. Nothing too spectacular about me except I got good grades. That's easy for a smart and quiet person. Moo Moo just barely passed high school, always carrying on.

Anyway, I did the school plays and the singing shows and the choruses, because I loved music and liked the other kids who did those things. But I never took art. That was Moo Moo's area, my Mama said. "You're the smart one and Moo Moo is the artist." And you know, Mama was always right. Everyone thought that, especially her and our Daddy. Daddy told us once, "Your Mama has only been wrong one time, and that was when she thought she was wrong and she was really right." He was kind of smiling when he said it, but it was pretty true.

So I never did learn how to do art, except for paint-by-number sets and coloring books. In the coloring books, sometimes I outlined and sometimes I didn't. I didn't like coloring the big spaces like sky and whole bodies. I liked the littler things like flowers.  And Moo Moo did drawings from chalk and then painted from watercolors in a box. I remember one of her paintings in the hall of Mama's house. Every time I walked down that hall I seen it. You can't put glee clubs on a wall, so I always remembered that Moo Moo was the artist.

Now I'm pretty old, and Mama has been dead for a while, and I want to see if I can do some art. I don't exactly know why. Maybe because I don't want to be scared of it. So I would take a class called "Art for the Terrified."

I have a friend Barbara who is an art teacher. I was down at the community center last week and we got to talking and I admitted that when I just think about drawing or painting a picture I want to curl up in a little ball like a sow bug. Just scares me. I'd be pretty bad. I'm not the artist, you know. And Barbara said she would teach a class at the center next year for people like me who are scared of art. "You know, all art is is a bunch of shapes," she said. "You start with shapes like circles and rectangles and cubes and pretty soon you have done some art." I was just amazed to hear that. I wondered how I got to be so old and not know that. I read a lot and I know a bunch, but not that.

And then I found out that when an artist is working, and they's looking at a model or something, they don't try to make their art look like an exact copy of what they're seeing, like a photograph. They make it like they feel it. I never knowed that. That's a sow bug kind of thing, for sure.

So anyway, I told Barbara if she teaches a class called "Art for the Terrified" I will take the class, at least for the first day. If I find out all the other people in the class aren't as scared as me, I will most likely not go back. I don't want to be the only sow bug in the room.

I told Moo Moo about the class and she thought it would be a fun class. Maybe for her. 

But I got to try it. I never got the chance for Mama to say I was an artist.


It's been over nine years since I wrote this. I'd forgotten about this piece until I started moving all my old writing from my old MacBook Air to my new one. I'm still afraid of taking the class, but I promised JoAnne. These days, though, it's not about wanting my mother to approve of anything. I've succeeded in my life in ways beyond anything she would have imagined. But I am a lifelong learner, and I want to continue to grow.

I will try very hard not to curl up like a sow bug!