BAREFOOT HUMMINGBIRD


beato_harris_1

She lived a life that would have been considered outrageous even by today’s standards, but Beatrice Woods began her life in 1893 as a daughter of a wealthy, socially conscious family in San Francisco. Ultimately, it was her exposure to the arts that ruined her mother’s hopes for her in 1912, when Beatrice rejected plans for a coming-out party and decided she wanted to become a painter.

Supervised by a chaperone, Beatrice went to Paris to study, but it was in Giverney, home of Monet, that rebellious Beatrice ditched the chaperone and moved into an attic with her painted canvases.

220px-Beatrice_Wood_and_Marcel_Duchamp

Moving to Paris, she decided to become an actress, and while taking acting lessons, Beatrice became became part of a Bohemian group of artists, and where she was introduced to the artist Marcel Duchamp. “We immediately fell for each other,” Beatrice recalled. “He was an enchanting person.” Duchamp introduced her to Henri-Pierre Roche, a French diplomat, writer and art collector, who became her first lover. He was also the first man to break her heart. Beatrice had found herself surrounded by Bohemian men who thought little of bourgeois morality. During this time she became known as the “Mama of Dada”.

“Marcel shocked me because he said that sex and love are two different things,” Beatrice later recalled. Yet she fell into a relationship with both men, and remained life-long friends with Duchamp. In 1953 Roche wrote a semi-autobiographical novel called Jules et Jim, about a threesome, which some some erroneously suggested may have been inspired by the association of Woods, Duchamp and Roche.

In 1948, Beatrice moved to Ojai, California, to be close to the Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti. She built a home in the small peaceful village of artists a little south of Santa Barbara and surrounded by lovely rolling hills. There she taught and pursued her art for the next sixty years. At age 90, at the urging of her friend Anais Nin, she became a writer. Her most famous book is “I Shock Myself”.
220px-Beatrice_Wood_Luster_Chalice

I first became interested in Beatrice in 1985 while teaching a class in conceptual art and Marcel Duchamp, and when I learned that she was living in Ojai, I welcomed an opportunity to visit her.

If you want the local lowdown in Ojai, California, a resident says “People rarely ask what you do—they ask, ‘what brought you to Oja?’ I love that. Ojai is a beautiful sleepy small community of artists, farmers, and a few people who simply want to relax and enjoy life.

The prospect of seeing poppies drew us up into the green hills above the town. We had been graced with the sight of enormous 5 inch wide white flowers along highway 101, and Ojai thought enough of them to name a park Matilija—Ma-till-a-hah.

Matilija Poppies
Matilija Poppies, watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Winding up through the hills we came upon Beatrice’s little house where she lived, worked and had a small gallery of her work. The door was answered by a diminutive Indian man who introduced himself as “her humble servant.” Beatrice was momentarily engaged in another room but we saw her as she darted past the doorway like a barefoot hummingbird. Draped in colorful sari and Native American jewelry, she was an iconic figure, even better than I had thought

When she floated into the gallery and found my interest in art, her “humble servant” brought cups of tea and she described the art displayed in the room. She was quite open about her relationships with Duchamp and Roche, and introduced us to her German Shepherd dog,
Roche” who wandered into the room in search of a pat on the head.

Her sculptures were funky, funny and engaging and told a wry story of her life. One large piece was of a brothel on fire, with girls leaning out the front windows while a variety of men were pouring out the back doors. Beatrice explained that the men were “the mayor, the police chief, etc.” It was plain that her way to get even with the men who had hurt her throughout her life was to put them all in erratic or hazardous situations in her art.

To what did she attribute her longevity? Her stock answer was “I owe it all to chocolate and young men.” Beatrice Woods died in Ojai at the age of 105 in 1998.

Her personal and artistic style intrigued me, and I developed a number of pieces as a dedication to Beatrice.

Out Of The Woods
“Out Of The Woods” clay sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Beatrice Lives
“Beatrice Lives” clay sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

CENTO


Is a writer guilty of writing a patchwork (cento) of other authors works or opinions? Probably. The very act of communication introduces us to ideas not of our own making which we develop and embellish until even the original purveyor has trouble recognizing or claiming as his own.

Nobel-prize-winning poet T.S. Eliot’s observation is relevant to centos:
“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds is theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion.”

Two examples of centos; The Oxford Cento by David Lehman and The Dong With the Luminous Nose by John Ashbery

Those of us who read or watch a lot of movies see centos in everything. Haven’t you thought to yourself “Oh, I read that in F. Scott Fitzgerald,” or actually knew the next line of dialogue in a movie? They say there is nothing new under the sun, and only so many stories to be told. Just tweak them a little and you may have a best seller. Just be sure to do a good job of your pilfering.

Touch the Earth
“Touch The Earth” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

In rummaging through the books of poetry in my library looking for a particular one, I came upon a book of James Kavanaugh with an inscription from my daughter in 1979. I had forgotten it and I’m happy to have discovered it again.

The following poem is NOT a Cento, but it does have a relation to those who touch the earth.

TO THOSE WHO WALK EASY ON THE EARTH
by James Kavanaugh

To those who know:
that the desert flowers will bloom
when the oil rigs are silent;

that trees will again stand tall
over the ashes of forgotten wars;

that no one can take away the sunrise
or the smells of spring.

To those:
who walk easy on the earth.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT TITLES?


I Am Home
“I Am Home” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen
,

We are always advised to make a title inviting. To use it as a “hook” to get people to read or look at something we have created.
After all, who would want to see something bland and uninteresting? I have been making art and writing for most of my life, and I have yet to find the composing of titles an easy job. It has even been suggested to me that the titles I apply to my blog posts could be a bit more….you know. (My loved one is so forthcoming.)

Early on I used to try and think of great titles for my paintings or sculptures. I was even known to think of something and do a painting to match the title. As the years went by if the art stayed around, I would change the name on occasion. I have even found myself lazily changing the name of a piece which was sold long ago on its archive record. Dr. Advice will often ask “Wasn’t that painting called ….?” I am ashamed to admit I do not remember. Once out of my hands….. Foundries to which I have entrusted a piece sometimes suggested a better name, to which I often shrugged a shoulder. What’s really in a name?

Long time readers will remember that I frequently changed my own name as a child as well. Serving as my own shrink I determined some years ago that a change of name was an easy way to shake up the status quo and enter the world of pretend.

We too all have titles. Miss, Ms., Mrs. Are they really important in telling people who we really are? Emily Post and Miss Manners tell us there is a right way in written address for unmarried women, married women, divorced women and widowed women. How many people pay attention to those rules unless printed on heavy white bond paper in a social situation? According to that I am not kayti sweetland rasmussen, but a replica of my husband with Mrs. planted in front of it. Mrs. Dr. Advice probably doesn’t fly.

We are each unique. Many artists resort to the number system. If you can’t think of a name for a piece of art, give it a number. If you give it a big number it makes it seem as if there had been many precursors which is intriguing to those who decide to like what they see and they think you must be very important. I hesitate to resort to that method when recalling that prisoners and Holocaust victims are given numbers.

I have known people to give their pets the same name as their predecessor. That must be rather insulting to a new dog when he realizes that when their name is called, their master is remembering another.

In studying some of my family records, the name Hiram comes up three times, one after the other. It makes it hard to distinguish which Hiram made the dresser in my guest room, Hiram one, two or three, without looking through the papers. My own name, occurring in several generations, presents the same problem, though none of us was a cabinetmaker. It’s left to succeeding generations to make the call.

AUDREY THE IMPECCABLE


audrey hepburn

One by one, the whole family disappeared leaving me alone with my pineapple and the remote control. My youngest daughter asked “Who comes to Maui to watch TV?” Not too surprising from Dr. Advice, but I expected better from her.

We may not have had any popcorn, which you are supposed to have in order to enjoy a movie, but there was plenty of fresh pineapple, and a papaya still left on the kitchen counter after dinner, and the prospect of Audrey Hepburn on the TV screen. Though we usually trundle off to bed by 9 p.m., Audrey would not appear until 10, and I didn’t intend to miss “Charade” starring her and Cary Grant, who you may remember was no slouch in the looks department.

They ran some preliminary shots of Audrey’s previous movies, and my oldest daughter joined me, she is very well-versed in movie trivia, from living in Southern California where it all happens. Those not in the know, say “It’s all so L.A.”! When the “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” short shot came on, she said she heard that Truman Capote really intended the novel of the same name to be about the life of a wild, beautiful young man in New York in the ’40s and ’50s. Because of the anti-homosexual bias of the times, though, he had to create a woman as the main character. I know that Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Holly Golightly. Do you think some authors write a book with certain people in mind in case it gets picked up as a movie?

In the old Hollywood days, everyone smoked and drank martini’s, and the only one who never got into trouble for being drunk was William Powell as “The Thin Man”. The cops who pulled him over on the bridge (I forget which bridge) simply wished him a good day and sent him on his way still holding his martini. The gorgeous girls of Hollywood, sported fabulous clothes, had hair which never looked like they just got out of bed, gazed soulfully at their leading man, were never pictured in the kitchen fixing dinner, or scrubbing their bathrooms. Why wouldn’t we all want to be them? New York was impossibly glamorous and chic–and so was Audrey Hepburn, effortlessly stylish, charming and graceful. Just as she was in her private life.

-Charade-(DVD)-Comedy-(1963)-Run-Time 113-Minutes-~-Starring -Cary-Grant,-Audrey-Hepburn,-Walter-Matthau,-James-Coburn,-George-Kennedy-~-Directed-by -Stanley-Donen

By the time the feature movie started, both daughters and a ten year old great-granddaughter were curled up on the couches with me, ready to watch Cary, for perhaps the second or even third time, rescue Audrey from George Kennedy, the bad guy. Dr. Advice was snoring away in the other room.

A DANISH ORIGINAL


HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN

His earliest writings were based on stories he heard as a child, but he soon began constructing new and original stories, some of which reflected his humble background and ungainly looks. “The Ugly Duckling”, while universal in theme, is believed by some scholars to be an expression of his struggle with his homosexuality in an era in which same sex relations were illegal.

Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) was a Danish author who left us an incredible legacy in the form of stories that transcend age and nationality such as “The Ugly Duckling”, “The Princess and the Pea”, “The Little Mermaid”, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, “The Snow Queen”, “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”, “Thumbelina”, and “The Little Match Girl”.

In it’s proverbial form, “The Ugly Duckling” is an account of an unprepossessing, unsatisfactory member of one species evolving into a beautiful, admired member of another and encourages us to expect for ourselves an eventual transformation of situation and self for the better, whatever the restrictions of our early circumstances and the current low opinion of others.

Obviously this story is of irresistible appeal to insufficiently appreciated children, but also to those whose familial praise and appreciation seems in direct opposition to those of his peers. As an only child, I had been led to believe that I somehow possessed superior qualities in whatever field I entered. It was a pity that no one else shared their opinion!

Many children imagine themselves in the role of Prince or Princess, having somehow been switched at birth into a royal or more privileged family. I expressed a common desire to be found better than I was, and occasionally embarrassed my self by jumping into the fray only to be discovered lacking in whatever talent to which I had laid claim.

On one such occasion in a fourth grade talent show, I confidently sat at the piano and pounded out a “Russian” piece which I made up as I went along. The scalding looks and silence which greeted me fortunately kept me away from any further public piano recitals.

“The Ugly Ducking” assures us of the hope of acceptance during our unhappy times, while confounding all those authority figures who have given up on us or who have failed to see the possibility of excellence.

ugly duckling

The inclination to bully those different from ourselves is universal, beginning in childhood. It involves the first taste of class consciousness, as well as the ability to exercise power over another. As a child, I attended a different school each year, in a different state. I was therefore somewhat different, and fair game for those inclined to bully. Bullying can take the form of rejection, sarcasm, a promise of some future aggressive action, or casual derogatory remarks, any of which can leave lifelong scars on a sensitive child.

The object of hostility, or at least aversion, can be either one who is richer, poorer, beautiful or homely, smart or dumb, fat or skinny. In other words, someone different from one’s self.

The current rash of NFL abuse cases springs from people trained to hit first and then ask questions. The difference in size and strength, the exorbitant amount of money paid these people, plus the weekend adulation given them, somehow makes them immune to ordinary behavior. We can only hope that public opinion and a steady reduction in their paychecks will eventually make them rejoin the human race.

It is interesting that “The Ugly Duckling” was Andersen’s most constant favorite and one for which he exclaimed to a friend in 1843 “It’s selling like hotcakes”! The similarities between Andersen’s life and the ugly duckling are irresistible. Andersen was gangly, poor, and uneducated–yet he became a literary star despite the under-appreciation he suffered. In a similar fashion, the hatchling is mistaken for a common duck and mistreated before discovering that he is a beautiful swan. He often remarked that “The Ugly Duckling” was the hardest story to compose, as it was the most autobiographical.

This classic example of an animal tale also spawned one of Andersen’s most famous quotes: ‘Being born in a duck yard does not matter, if only you are hatched from a swan’s egg’. In Andersen’s day, the definition of artistic genius was shifting and was less bound to class than it had been before. He was part of this exciting new breed, and the tale’s inspiring and hopeful message continues to make it one of Andersen’s most beloved stories to this day.

All of us know moments of oppressive solitude of the soul. What we want most at such times is the assurance that we are not unique in our emotions, that others have the same yearnings, have suffered similarly. “The Ugly Duckling is an instrument of profound comfort.

SWIMMING IN THE MOONLIGHT


mermaid
“The Mermaid” Painting by Audrey Mabee

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“People sometimes try to convince me that I am drowning.

If that’s true I can breathe underwater.

But I can’t just swim away like a mermaid.

And sometimes I do struggle,

But most of the time my eyes secure themselves

with a deadened glaze and rest in the dankness of my brain.

I know there is no life guard on duty, but if you want to

swim in the moonlight there usually isn’t.

If I go under, the water’s cool, cushiony embrace

Will envelop my tired body and lay me on the

Powdery sand to rest.”

POEM BY KATE NICKERSON, when in high school

A POISONOUS SUMMER ALL AROUND


What triggers a story? You sit staring at the blank white page on your computer, knowing you have something to say. The piles of notes scribbled all over the desk say you do. And you do this every day. As you sit, you think about the banana cream pie you started out in the kitchen, or the dustmop waiting in the corner you promised yourself to use today, but something you thought of last night when you couldn’t go to sleep at three o’clock is nibbling at your memory. What was it?

In this case, it turns out that it was the smell of my mother’s homemade bread, baked in a wood oven in New London, Connecticut when I was ten years old.

059 “Kate and Nigh-Nigh” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

The start of two years in New London, Connecticut, did not bode well. We had arrived after a hot and hurried road trip across country in the summer of 1938 to a strange community, strange people and stranger new surroundings.

We found an apartment, upstairs over a grocery store. It had two rooms and the bathroom was down the hall, which was strange because you couldn’t hang out in it because somebody else might need to use it. There was a community phone out in the hallway, but we didn’t know anyone to call anyway so that was OK. The building was old and the landlord lived downstairs with his family of wife and two small children. The good thing was that the landlord’s kids could drink all the orangeade they wanted for free.

Our kitchen floor was crummy old greyish beige linoleum with colored flecks in it. In front of the sink it had worn through to the black, and in one place you could see the wood flooring. My mother was sad but uncomplaining; things would get better. Of course in the Depression, you never could be sure of anything. It’s only claim to fame was a big old wood stove which turned out delicious bread once or twice a week.

Eventually I went out to play with the downstairs kids and came home red and itching. The more I itched, the more I scratched until welts and bubbles broke out all over my body. My father’s diagnosis—poison ivy.

poson ivy

My mother bathed me with stinky CutiCura Soap and the ointment which went with it.and then coated me in a sticky layer of pink calamine lotion which kept leaving flakes wherever I walked. Though I spent the entire summer in bed in this condition, I don’t remember what the bedroom looked like. The whole thing reminds me now of Chesterton’s quote: “Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances that we know to be desperate.”

Another summer, our first (and only) in Oregon, was also spent in the throes of Poison something or other. Along with the ubiquitous calamine lotion, which I might as well tell you, does nothing to relieve the itching, they wrapped me in damp sheets for the summer, mummified and staring at the ceiling of another house.

Years later in California, Dr. Advice and I cut through a meadow to reach the river to go swimming away from the other summer vacationers. I was monstrously pregnant, and in those days you kept out of sight when in your swim suit rather than pose for Time magazine as Demi Moore so famously did in her birthday suit. The meadow was lush with bushes of blackberries and other bushes. We sat and ate our sandwiches and blackberries and tossed the crumbs to a friendly squirrel which seemed interested in us.

That evening I noticed a red rash appearing on my arms and legs. It itched. It spread over my large stomach. You would think I’d learn to keep out of the weeds.

PoisonOak_wb_biggerLeaves Poison Oak

DEAR MRS. JAQUISH


Dear Mrs. Jaquish,

I don’t know if this is the way your name was spelled when I knew you. It’s how it sounded to me anyhow. This is a note to apologize for all the rotten things we rowdy kids did to you so long ago before we knew better. We children were not good neighbors. I’m sure you did not plant your flower garden expressly for us to pick, nor your trees for us to climb.

I would have written an apology right after we left, but I got poison ivy as soon as we began settling into living in Connecticut and after that it was too late and you were gone when we came back home two years later. I still have the nice letter you wrote to me which shames me somehow now as not being particularly worthy of your friendship. It begins “Dear Katie Lou,” which was my childhood name, and gives me the news of the neighborhood. I disliked my name even then, and you will be pleased to know I tried out many new ones along the way before settling on the present one.

PALM I can picture Long Beach even now after all these years; hopping the squares in the sidewalk, the wonderful old palm trees lining the streets which all had squiggly black patches on them. The truck which came around with hot melted tar to paste on the cracks in the pavement lives in my memory because we used to chase it down the block and grab a piece of hardened tar before the man could catch us. We thought it was good for our teeth.

Maybe that’s what Life is though, a series of patching things up. Streets, houses, relationships. Even trying to make amends for shortcomings suffered three-quarters of a century ago.

I don’t know how old you may have been in 1938, but I’m sure I am older now than you were then, and with a love of gardening equal I’m sure to yours.

There weren’t many of us children in our neighborhood. Two or three more girls and a boy or two who lived around the corner where I was not allowed to play. If you will remember, in Grandma’s rooming house where I lived, there were a number of people who kept track of me.

When we returned home in 1940, someone else lived in your old house, and one of the two little sisters, our playmate Jackie Glass, had passed away as well as yourself. She was the youngest one at eight. I have her picture at my 10th birthday party taken right before we moved away. I don’t have a photo of you, but you live in my memory. You were the first truly old person I knew.

Anyway Mrs. Jaquish, if you get this letter somewhere up on your cloud, I have learned that apologies are best given with some immediacy.

Very truly yours,

BOY WITH A COOKIE


Lincoln with cookie

Standing in the sunlit garden, this small last progeny, munches happily on his giant chocolate chip cookie, bright beams of radiance bouncing off hair in pleasant need of a barber.

Who has not stood barefoot, awaiting his turn for a shower from the garden hose, then bolting quickly through the icy cold spray, thinking to stay as dry as possible, but secretly hoping not to?

Childhood memories of a bygone age, refreshed periodically by other children no less dear, fill my heart as I watch, entranced by this youngest sprite repeating the age-old summer activity.

When did it all go?

ADDICTED TO BOOKS


ty reading “Family History” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

I am addicted to books. I can’t seem to stay away from Half Price book store. I went with Sam today to look for a movie. “Elizabeth” I think, and ended up buying another four books. The stack of unread books increases daily. What is wrong with me? Is it because I was never given the right book to read as a child? I certainly read all the time, and enjoyed every minute of it. People who had not seen me for many years always remembered me as having had my nose pressed into a book all the time. Jan was much the same way, and I begin to wonder if it wasn’t a way to absent ourselves from where we were at the time.

I know that when I walked into Auntie’s house each time, I looked at and couldn’t stop thinking how wonderful it was that she had all those books. Mostly children’s books I think. Probably for their daughter Phyllis when she was a child. Auntie and Uncle Phil were readers too. Sitting side by side in their chairs in the living room each night with the lamp between them, reading until precisely 8 p.m. at which time they trundled off to bed not to be seen again until 6 a.m. sharp.

At grandma’s there were no books except the Bible and her Science and Health from being a devout Christian Scientist. Not much interesting for a child to read, except the cereal box, and there was nothing too exciting about that. When my Dad was at home, he always had a book, usually a mystery starring Boston Blackie or someone like that. I remember picking one up at an early age and seeing the word “damn”, I slapped it shut quickly, being pretty embarrassed and hoping no one had seen me.

Today’s foray into the book store brought gold. Sebald’s “Emigrants”, “Moby Dick” (only because I read yesterday that Starbuck’s got its name from “Moby Dick” and I want to find out where.) I also found “The Paris Wife” about Hemingway’s first wife, which I have read but lent it to someone years ago when it came out, and never got back. Bronia always says “if you lend a book, kiss it goodbye”. I guess she was right about that one, but then Pat whom I lent it to got sick and died, so you can excuse her for not returning it.

The 4th book was a quick grab going out the door. “My Dog Skip”. I had heard of it some time ago, and read the blurb on the back and being a dog lover, I was hooked. I think it’s a tear jerker, which is nice to read sometimes just to keep the water flowing over the eyeballs. If nothing else it is a good one to pick up and look through while waiting for Sam in the car which I certainly do pretty often. Today I waited while he went into the hardware store to buy a new garbage disposer. The old one was bought in 1989, and cost $89, so I guess we got our money’s worth out of it.

Someone asked me what I do now that I can’t do my artwork anymore, so I said I read and of course write. It was hard not to be able to do sculpture anymore after my shoulder gave out. Just to watch all my equipment roll out the door going to their new home was pretty traumatic. Of course, said Sam, you can always paint, and I know I can, but other than sporadic bouts of inspiration, I have done nothing in three years, so I figured I better get with it and find something else to do that might be at least a little creative.

Cheri said why didn’t I write a blog. I had never even read a blog and hated the word itself, but she sat me down and here I am, three years later. Of course as you get old or at least older, your world shrinks about half, so after you write about your kids, and your childhood, and a few other things which interest you but probably don’t interest anyone else, where else do you go?

Why don’t you write a book, says husband, kids and granddaughter (who really ought to write a book right now, since she is an inveterate traveler, and meets all kinds of interesting people, so it would be a worthwhile book to read). Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, why don’t I write a book? Well maybe I have to get back out in the world and start meeting more people to write about.