Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Missus (A Tribute To Our Love -- Skip To The End For The Funny Part)

These sculptures are the works of the missus. She began as a potter and bodyworker and after a certain point her ceramic work began to develop sculptural qualities -- her tactile knowledge of the human form began to inform her potting.

After a while she began to take classes in sculpture. She began working with full-figures in clay but after her skills developed she began to refine her approach. She began to work with porcelain.

Her technique was to develop a rough form, then cover it with cloth (I lost a lot of T-shirts that way) and lay a sheet of rolled porcelain over it for the finished rendering. Then she'd dig the form out and fire the porcelain sheet. Some were high-fired, some were raku -- put into a wood fire that forced smoke into the crazing of the porcelain, highlighting the crackled effect. Sometimes she'd highlight the crazing by having me treat the finished piece with an ink wash.

Unfortunately she began to experience problems in her hands and arms as a result of this work -- her process was very physically demanding. And she was never able to get the hang of drawing (I think she could have if she studied it from the ground up instead of leaping headfirst into life drawing). So for a number of years she had no artistic outlet. But over the last few years her lifelong passion for gardening has taken on a distinctly sculptural quality. When I'm better at photography I'll post a piece on her current work but for now here's a healthy taste of her garden, courtesy of writing pal and horticultural polymath Deborah Kuchar.

(Note -- this is a repost. Today is Karen's and my twentieth anniversary and this is what I have to say about us.)

Well, I just wasted half an hour trying to track down a James Branch Cabell quote from Jurgen. Here's a paraphrase.

Poets fail to understand the strength of love. It is a force so powerful, so overwhelming, that it can compell a woman to put up with them.


If you've been steadily reading this blog you may have gotten the impression that I'm, well, kind of, uh. What's the word I'm looking for? An emotional trainwreck? Damaged goods? An old school crazy artist swinging wildly between elation, depression, rage, arrogance, and shame, a bit of a sot, someone with a great deal of verbal skill and a gift for sarcasm and mean-spirited commentary? That I'm a financial black hole with a sense of entitlement? That one of my most marked characteristics is what has come to be known as 'the zone of destruction'?

That I am, in a word, intolerable?

You may well ask yourself, what kind of woman would put up with this monstrosity?

A very, very strong woman with peculiar tastes (sometimes I think that if I really understood what she saw in me I'd run screaming into the night) and a terrible memory, of course.

A woman who is brilliant, artistic, scholarly (she doesn't think she is -- but you should hear the Latin terminology that gets thrown around the house), driven, powerful. Someone strong enough to stand up to me. Someone who isn't just a person -- someone who is a force to be reckoned with.

One who loves me, cherishes me, supports me endlessly, and who hates -- HATES -- my habit of self-deprecation. Boy, she's gonna give me a hard time for writing the above. Heh, heh, heh.

As of this February, she and I will have been together for twenty years. She is unquestionably one of the great blessings of my life. My gratitude for her is something I reflect on every day.

We've both grown immeasurably as a result of our influences on one another. Our approaches to life are diametrically opposed -- and as a result we have a lot to teach each other.

What do I mean by diametrically opposed?

She's an optimist and I'm a pessimist and in both cases we've suffered due to irrational expressions of those tendencies. This is one of the key sources of friction between us. (That said, it's pretty fucking obvious that her attitude has served her well and mine has served me poorly. I'm trying to learn from her.)

Back in the day she was a hippy -- she was on Ken Kesey's bus, her first daughter was the result of Woodstock, she lived on a commune. We are talking stone fucking hippy. Me? I had a mohawk in the eighties and have every Ramones album. (Of course these days she's into stuff like Scissors Sisters and Pink while I'm as likely to be listening to Billy Joe Shaver or Fats Waller as anything else.)

In person I tend to be a hell of a lot less brash than you might think from the site. I tend to be shy and deferential in social situations where I don't have a clearly defined role to play. The word 'sweet' has been frequently applied to me without intended irony. The missus is bold and daring, a real Alpha type.

She believes in Lemuria and animal telepathy. When we first got together she paid someone to cast a professional-grade astrological chart on me. When I ran across a list of the ten most dangerous cults in California she had been involved with the top two. I'm a skeptic and a fairly snide one at that.

She's a Jew from Queens. I'm an atheist-identified agnostic from Richmond, California. She comes from a money, I'm blue-collar to the bone.

She takes her bite out of the middle while I'd just as soon go hungry.

But after all this time we've swapped a lot of our characteristics. She's learned to apologize and take responsibility for her actions and I've learned to stand up for myself. She's grown more gentle, more kind, while I've grown less bitter. And we've both learned to be more loving. It's not like we've changed radically -- we've just become better and more functional versions of ourselves.

My presence has allowed her to make serious decisions and radical changes in her life. Not to go into it, but she's been in situations where people have to some degree taken advantage of her or she's been involved in situations that did not make her happy because of her fear of loneliness. Having someone who is fully committed to her has allowed her to make some fairly bold decisions and changes in her life. She is physically and emotionally healthier now than she was when we first got together. Twenty years on and honest to god, she looks and acts younger now than she did when we met.

Since I've been with her I've gotten a handle on my mental illness. (I may complain about it, I may worry about it -- but I'm no longer in need of institutionalization. I'm capable of functioning in the world.) I've let go of my feeling that hating existence is a sign of superiority. I've opened myself up to the possibility that there is some good in life. I am far more capable and functional than I was when we got together. I've even developed a couple of social skills.

And, less importantly but more obviously, she's given me a place in the world, a place that is really mine. Because of her my actual standard of living is far better than would be indicated by my income over the years. I've been places and seen things that would otherwise have been denied me. I eat well, sleep in comfort, and have a wonderful place to work because of her.

Our relationship is still growing, still changing. Still getting better. It's not perfect. We've both had to make sacrifices and hard decisions. But even during our worst moments we've always known there's something that's more important than her or me.

There's us.

(Okay, I can't let this end without giving you a good Karen story. For a while we would take the dogs and go up to Strawberry Canyon and hike for an hour every morning. At one point she decided that she wanted to listen to her iPod as we walked rather than engage in conversation and I shrugged my shoulders and agreed to let her -- the sheer rudeness of her request having overwhelmed me.

So one morning we're heading downhill back to the car and all of a sudden her stance changes and she starts to pimp walk. She struts, pumps her hips, swings her arms out while making enthusiastic if ill-informed gang signs.

Approaching us up the hill is an old-school Asian couple, I'd guess Chinese. The man is walking five paces ahead of the woman and they aren't talking and the irony of our conjunction was not lost on me.

When they're maybe eight feet away Karen, utterly lost in her music, suddenly stops and flings her arm dramatically forward, pointing in their direction, and loudly says, "It's the Ying Yang Twins!" before returning to her hilarious pimp walk.

[In case you don't know the Ying Yang Twins are a hip-hop group notable for their vulgarity. Karen was into them for a while.]

I wait until we're around the bend to gesture to Karen that she should take her earbuds out.

"Uh, sweetie?"

She looked at me impatiently. "What?"

"Do you have any idea of what you just did?"

That's part of what makes us work. I'm not the only source of public embarrassment in our relationship.)


Allison Landa said...

Brilliant. I remember the iPod story, but it's even better the second time around.

Sean Craven said...

Heh. I'm keeping a stash of Karen stories just in case I ever need them.

The woman doesn't understand why I'd be upset that the oatmeal she gave me, and that I dressed with butter and maple syrup, had been cooked with soy sauce and seaweed. Why should she have to tell me about that? Soy sauce and seaweed are delicious in oatmeal! I should be happy!

(The CAPTCHA for this post was spstic, which is just too close for comfort.)

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