The Power of a Whisper

I get along with most people. Most people get along with me. But every once in a while I’ll run across someone evil. Cruella d’Vil kind of evil, soap opera villain evil. You know the type. Smart, driven, and friendly on the outside, but on the inside, a mean spirited, back stabbing, manipulative, soul sucking witch, with a capital B.Cruella

Usually, I see them coming and head the other way. But recently, I walked smack dab into a couple of bad ones. One female, the other male. Their gender helped to determine their motive and aggressive styles, but the effects of their nastiness were very similar.

I have to believe that Cruella, was manipulating the male, because he was not smart enough to do much more than yell and scream (literally) and act like a schoolyard bully. It was a unpleasant situation and frankly a waste of my time, money and effort. I’m glad to be free of it.

But that isn’t the point of this article, just the impetus for it.

Back in the early 90’s, I had the pleasure of being asked to teach art at a local elementary school.  It was a new school in our growing community and they needed a part time art teacher. I had been teaching for a while at my gallery. But, never in public school and never six hundred students-twenty five at a time.

I learned a lot my first year from the principal and other teachers. I learned more from my students. The most important thing they taught me was: they will listen if you whisper.Godfather

Being an art class, the students claimed a certain sense of freedom from the regular classroom rules. That and the fact they could smell a new teacher a mile down the hall, evoked a collective, “let’s see how much we can get away with…”

It was only a few days into the school year when I admitted to myself, I had no control over them. I didn’t know what to do when my class refused to settle down. Boys were shouting and sword fighting with paint brushes, girls were squealing and painting their faces to look like makeup. It was chaos.

I tried ringing a bell, holding up my hand, putting my fingers to my lips, writing names on the board and even yelling a little myself. None of those techniques met with success.

But as soon as I walked over to a student in the middle of the class and started to speak in a low voice about a painting I was working on with a warrior queen and evil shape shifters, the class got quiet.  Row by row, student by student, they started to listen. As I gained their attention, I started asking questions: “What color do you think the eyes should be? How would you transform the shapes? Should the queen have magical powers? What else would you add?”

As long as I whispered, they spoke in a low voice too, in turn, and in awe. They were excited to have input on such a cool idea. Each week they would ask about the painting and offer suggestions. They wanted to create their own “story art” and did so in a focused, calm manner. They seemed to connect the whisper with the painting. Did they still get a little crazy sometimes?  Sure, but all I had to do was make them want to listen by whispering about an interesting idea.  I love working with children. They are so open, so eager to learn and offer up their ideas in an open and ungarnished way.

Adults, not always the case. I forgot the power of a whisper in my recent experience. Although, I’m not sure any amount of whispering would have worked. Some of us, at a certain point in our lives, close ourselves off to listening, exploring and learning, and resort to nasty behavior. Next time I get in a toxic situation, I will speak in a low voice, share ideas, listen, and observe. Perhaps I can get others to build up, not tear down and offer solutions, instead of creating problems. If not, I will pick up my marbles and go home; another lesson I learned from children.

Wrinkle Day

I don’t mind getting older because the alternative is death, but that’s where my tolerance ends.

I don’t like taking pills to maintain bodily functions.  I don’t like waking up at four in the morning and not able to go back to sleep.  I don’t like peeing a bit when I cough or sneeze. (sometimes, not ALL the time)

And I don’t like getting wrinkles. Wrinkles on my face, my neck, my hands…they’re annoying and distract me from believing I’m still an attractive, smart, capable woman.  They distract other people from seeing it as well.  I get 20 year old dental hygienists calling me “sweetie” and patting my shoulder, bag boys asking if I need help to my car (I used to not mind that) and sales clerks directing me with,”you might like some things in THIS part of the store” (sweetie, pat, pat).

I’m fifty freaking eight, not a hundred and two!

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Photographer Unknown

In her later years, my paternal grandmother, had the most beautiful network of wrinkles on her face.  A Kentucky farmer, she worked in the sun most of the day, working the tobacco and tending to the large vegetable garden out behind the stable. Long before sunscreen, she wore a bonnet to keep the sun out of her eyes, more than protecting her face, and never used anything other than Corn Husker’s Lotion to soothe rough or reddened areas of skin.   My sisters and I used to help her by pulling the seedlings from the fabric covered beds so my dad and Aunt Hazel could set them in the field.  We tormented the caterpillars dining on our tomato plants, dug potatoes, picked and shelled peas and counted our sweat bee stings.  The one with the most was the winner as long as she didn’t cry.

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The American painter Georgia O’Keeffe, 1967 (Photo by Philippe Halsman)

Wrinkles, although probably not welcomed, were accepted, like the hard wind and rain that came in late spring, washing deep gullies in the plowed fields. Honestly, I think a face with wrinkles can reveal so much about a a person.  A testament to their life’s adventures, to their “hard wind and rain.”

It’s deemed unacceptable today.  Wrinkles are bad.  We must minimize, abbreviate, eliminate, and eradicate.  We spend thousands to do this, without much success.  It makes me mad (frown line) to see the commercials depicting young, smooth skinned women, touting a product that   reveals their “younger, smoother, looking skin.  Big Woo!

I don’t hate wrinkles.  I just don’t like getting them one…by one…by one.

I propose, “Wrinkle Day”

In my perfect world, no one would get a single wrinkle anywhere, until they wake up on their 65th birthday. Then VOILA!  All  of the wrinkles they will ever get in their lifetime will appear on their face.  No one could postpone or avoid it. No miracle creams, syringes or surgical procedures could change it.

One thing I know for sure. If there is something that is inevitable for everyone, everywhere.  Society will put a positive spin on it.  It will be a day of celebration, Wrinkle Day parties with a cake and presents, photographers, caterers, friends, booze and medicinal marijuana, in certain states.  Wrinkle Day greeting cards, T-shirts and restaurant specials will all boost the economy and make old people feel good about the arduous process of aging.   It can become a fundraising event for sexagenarian charities.  “Guess how many wrinkles the mayor will get on his Wrinkle Day!  Dollar A Guess! (Ten for $7)

Sexagenarian, yes it is the word for people in their 60’s.  We don’t use it often now, but individuals will embrace it on Wrinkle Day.  This would open up a whole new path for the personal intimacy market, i.e. vibrating canes, silver streaked dildos, two seater, walk-in tubs and edible Depends. Well, maybe not that last one.

I’ve just purchased www.wrinkleday.com and am ready to begin a mass marketing campaign once I figure out how to make it all happen. I believe with the exploration of geonomics and the determination of this aging quinquagenerian there is hope for the future of Wrinkle Day.

It makes me happy just to think about it. (crows feet)

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Photographer Unknown

HELP! MURDER! POLICE…

Help! Murder! Police!  My wife fell in the grease.  I laughed so hard, I fell in the lard.  Help! Murder! Police!

I kid you not.

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This is what we chanted in 2nd grade, on the playground at Woodleigh Elementary in my small Kentucky town.  I guess every generation has their share of quirks or sayings they used for social interaction and parental confusion. Looking back, some of ours bordered on cruel and unusual. For example:

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We used to touch something or someone we thought gross or stinky or inferior in some way, then touch someone else, cross our fingers and yell,” POSTED”.  That child then, had to find another person with uncrossed fingers and pass the stinky germs on to them. I spent a big part of my young academic life with a watchful eye and crossed fingers. I’m sure those so called “inferior” people felt the brunt of it and I feel ashamed.  But, I was a dumb kid.  What did I know?  It seemed to be accepted by teachers and parents.  I don’t ever remember a teacher taking a proactive step to stop us and I do remember Mrs. Collins having her fingers crossed behind her back on the playground one time.  But, that was probably for something else.

Then there were Slam Books.

A Slam Book was a spiral bound note book, usually decorated by the owner (girls of course, boys didn’t own them, but did sign them) The first page was a numbered column in which kids put their name, to get assigned a number. Consecutive pages had a random persons name at the top and everyone who signed in on the first page, could write a comment on each person’s using their assigned number as their signature.

Oh the nasty things people would say with 2 minutes of anonymity. Things like:

Cute, but fat  #12

or

I’m never speaking to her again. #3

and

She should put on nicer underwear if she’s going to climb up the slide.  # 11

Yes, really.

My page got mostly favorable comments, but there were a few:

Nice but weird  #9

or

Skinny Minnie # 6

and

Jesus doesn’t love you anymore #22

That last one worried me for a while because the blasphemous kid signed in as God on #22.

Fortunately, it wasn’t all mean spirited.  Who can forget that flavorful tune?

“Great, green gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts, marinated monkey meat, little dirty birdie feet.   All this good food I would like to eat, but I forgot my spoon.” 

Pure poetry.

Who Knew?

“Jo, you fall off of there and I’m gonna spank you,” says my grandfather, as he sits on the porch watching me tightrope-walk the railing.

“Why?” I say, wishing I knew how to do a cartwheel. “I’d probably get hurt as it is.”

“Cause you shouldn’t be up there doing that.”

“Well, you didn’t say nothin.”

“I shouldn’t have to.  You should know better.”

I never knew better.  Never had a clue most of the time.  I would do things that got me in trouble and have absolutely no understanding of what I did wrong.

Like the time I built a tent out of blankets and chairs in the living room.  Fun, kid stuff right?  It was, until I decided we needed a campfire.  I got my mom’s big blue canning kettle, put some torn up newspaper in, and lit it up. Nothing smells better than a freshly struck wooden match and a toasted Marshmallow.  It seemed like the thing to do.  When our family went camping, we always had a campfire.  I wanted Barbie, Midge and Ken to have the same experience with me. I don’t even like Marshmallows if they haven’t been toasted.

ImageMy mom was at work at the time and our babysitter, Heidi came running in when she smelled, well…either the smoke or the delicious aroma of my toasty confection.  It was on fire and getting burned, just the right amount, when she pulled my tent apart, slammed the lid down on the canner, and put an end to my camping experience.

“Joetta Lynn, what do you think you’re doing?”  She yelled.  “You could have set yourself on fire and burned the whole house down.  You should know better!”

“But…” I was thinking how to explain the necessity of a good campfire when you’re in the wilderness of your living room.

Heidi says. “Butt is right and your’s is gonna get it when your daddy gets home.”

She never did tell him.  I convinced her that I wouldn’t do it again and I would “think seriously about the consequences, young lady before I upped and did something so foolish.”

Problem is I didn’t.  I couldn’t really.  I was a “why not, what if,” foolish, fun loving, kid who liked to take risks.  I’d climb high in my friend’s tree and put my ear up to the telephone lines that ran through it, just to see if I could listen in on a conversation. I couldn’t.  I’d see how far I could ride my bike with my eyes closed. Not very far. Try to jump over two dogs at the same time and once, (only once) I tied my jump rope around my waist, put my roller skates on and tied the other end to the bumper of our neighbors Pontiac.  He only went about twenty feet before he saw me, but it was one wild ride!  I have the scars on my knees to prove it.

Again, I should have known better.

However, I think my youthful audacity paid off.  It allowed me the freedom to explore a bit of the flip side of life. To think about the impossible and attempt the improbable.  To create something from nothing without great concern for the end result.

Oh, I’m more responsible and understand the consequences of my actions now.  After all, I am an adult and being a mom and a teacher, reigned me in to the realities of life.  I channel my fun, foolish, risk taking self, through my art and written words.  I paint what I imagine and create stories of people that find themselves in unpredictable and precarious situations. I let them get their knees skinned.  Behind the easel and over the keyboard is a place of redemption for me.  I can be that person, transformed in limitless ways.

I know I have a great character, when I sit back from my manuscript or work of art and think, “Oh yeah, You should have known better.”

Through a Rolling Donut Hole

My son and I love and respect one another.

We had a good conversation yesterday.  We talked, listened and ignored each other.  I was trying to give him advice and he was trying not to take it.  I was hoping to broaden his understanding of the workings of this world and he was letting me know that he already knew and what he didn’t know, he wanted to find out on his own. We are so much alike.

My son, Jackson is a good looking, highly intelligent, articulate and talented young man, confident in his abilities and determined to live life, his way.  We are so much alike, so much alike now.

His nineteen, is miles ahead of mine.  At nineteen, I was a smart mouth, college sophomore, unsure of myself and my abilities, easily manipulated and lead astray by anyone who said, “let’s party”.  I was irrational, hot tempered and slightly histrionic.  I had little understanding of the world, didn’t know where I was going and didn’t give a flying f#!*k what people thought.  A lovely young woman.

If I’d known then what I know now.  Right?  I understand why I didn’t have a clue.  But why is his view of the world so much keener than mine, at the time?  The Internet? Reddit? Facebook?  Video games, explicit movies? Blatant TV ?

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Yeah, I think so.  I grew up with Donna Reed, Father Knows Best and The Brady Bunch. Happy families with little depth, trivial conflicts and a pristine facade.  Sure, they made you feel, warm and fuzzy, but they presented such a false pretense of reality. The conflict was always resolved. There was always a happy ending.

Life just wasn’t like that and it caused problems.  First, those programs set high standards, too high.  Donna Reed  was beautiful, happily married to a doctor with a pretty, “do no wrong” daughter and a lovable, son.  She wore a dress and heels everyday, cooked big family meals and had a spotless house.  That’s a hard act to follow.  Most real families paled in comparison. Second, a kid grew up not knowing how bogus that was until they got far enough away from the nest to find out on their own.  Finding out was difficult.  You got advice from elders, which you didn’t want or employed the trial and error method and learned the hard way.  Although, there is something to be said for learning the hard way, it often produced devastating consequences.

Frankly, I’m a little jealous.  I’m not saying that it’s easier for my son.  The Information Age creates it’s own set of pitfalls and problems, but it does arm you with reality, the good, the bad and the ugliness of it all.  My husband and I started him off in the right direction.  Knowing what’s out there before he goes, gives him a better chance of making good decisions.

I hope my son and I will continue to talk, listen and ignore each other with love and respect.

Chickens Don’t Cry

My grandmother had a glass egg that she used  to slip under a chicken to try to convince her to lay.  Now, I don’t know why a chicken wouldn’t or couldn’t lay an egg.  But after Mammaw ruled out sickness, parasites or the winter weather, she figured the hen needed educating.  Perhaps she didn’t know how good it felt to lay an egg.  Maybe she’d never been with a rooster before and didn’t know the pleasure derived from a sexual encounter. Maybe she just didn’t like baby chicks.  Although, she need not be worried about the last one, because more often than not, her progeny did not see the light of day.  However, this would have been a terrible conversation to have with a prospective mamma hen and not at all conducive to the egg laying process.

The glass egg was used to gently encourage the delicate pullet to “get with the program.” It usually worked.  I would gather it up each morning and slip it back in her nest  before bedtime.  After a bit, she would get used to the feel of the egg and probably with out much thought, lay one of her own.  Having done that a few times, she would then realize that she did not need the young “doodle doo” to lay eggs anyway and it might loosen her up a bit on the sex aspect.

You’ve been there right?  When you don’t feel like you have to do it.  It becomes so much more enjoyable.

The other poultry problem was the inclination of older hens to sit on an egg and lash out at anyone who tried to take it.  They could be vicious.  My grandmother’s answer to that was jail.  She built a jailhouse out of tobacco sticks and corrigated tin.  She would snatch the offender up by the feet and stash it in the jailhouse for a day or two until a lesson was learned.  It sat right outside of the hen house door so all those on the outside could cluck, peck and scratch up dust to exhibit their destain. The hen and I would be devastated.  I would sit by jail and talk to her in an encouraging voice, sharing in her humiliation, hoping to absorb some of her shame.

Chickens don’t cry, but I did.

Even though the punishment was short lived, the lingering effects took it’s toll.  The little jailbird plummeted in the pecking order. Scorned by the other hens she took on a solitary existence.  She lived on the fringes of the farm yard, eating leftovers and dropping poo only after the others had finished.

I would watch helplessly as a sweet old hen lost the last luster of her youth and ended up in hot water.  Literally.  It still brings a tear to my eye, as I blow on my spoon and wait for the stew to cool.

Borrowed from www.theconstanthunger.com