Four weeks of rewrites and hours locked away in the basement to the screams of “I want my MUMMY!” Four weeks of barely saying more to the kids than, “Good morning,” “Eat,” “Get dressed we’re late,” “Stop sitting on each other,” and “Goodnight, I love you.”
Three weeks of that had the additional fun of writing to eighty new students, grading their work, and answering those who don’t get why they can’t just write about how obesity is bad and wonder why I don’t hand out my phone number so they can call when they need me.
Damn, I cried. Hard. And often.
I wasn’t being a mom. A wife. I was just glued to the stupid screen to grade yet another round of papers, tackling another dozen pages of rewrites and DAMMIT, I lost three days’ worth of work, and–
Bo played with the kids. He kept them upstairs with books, video games, food–anything he could. He sat with me as I cried, and reminded me, time and again:
“Focus on what you’ve achieved, not on the hell right now.”
To which I often spat something back like, “And how’s that going to give me time to respond to two dozen students and edit thirty pages?”
Because that’s the killer, isn’t it? Time. We writers are desperate for it. It’s lousy timing when the fun writing hour we save for ourselves gets nixed for an obligation. But when writing is one such obligation, suddenly we realize just how little daylight we have for family, work, and writing.
When the term started, my mother offered to watch the kids for a day so Bo and I could get out.
Bo offered to go off on his own. “You should use that time to work.”
My immediate thought: Yes, I should. Several hours of peace. No “Where’s Mom?” No forced interaction with my family…that just want a little time with me. Any time.
Bo looked so tired. He fell asleep in the chair next to me yesterday, exhausted from his new double-shift life of ten hours at the postal service every day and Prime Caregiver every evening and weekend.
I set my screen aside. “Yeah, I should. But I need some time with you, too.”
Since neither of us were keen on the current films, we decided to visit the Milwaukee Art Museum–this time, for art we kinda actually knew.
I partially kid. A traveling exhibit of early Modern works was in town. Photography wasn’t allowed inside, I’m afraid, so I can’t show you how unique the exhibit was. Much of the work consisted of early sketches and practice drawings; for instance, one Toulouse Lautrec sketch of a horse was bordered by various drawings of hooves, just hooves, because he was trying to capture them just so.
Seems a familiar practice between writer and artist, that constant running of the pen to find the perfect strength in chosen lines.
The other big theme in those sketches? Women coming out of the bath. Not bathing, but coming out and drying themselves. Always drying the legs, too. Well, I suppose armpits aren’t exactly a sexy location to sketch.
When I was a kid, the museum building consisted of a 50s rectangle made of gravel that is actually a War Memorial (I still can’t tell how), but since 2001 we’ve had the very fancy-pants edition of the Quadracci Pavilion. The outside is built in the shape of a bird, complete with wings that open and close.
The inside of the Pavilion is pretty swanky, too.
The art contained within is something of a quirky hodge podge. And I say this as a Philistine who never took a lick of art history in school, so feel free to turn up your noses at my ignorance on the subject. All I know is that if your chosen first impression on visitors is a giant trowel in dirt, “classics” are not going to come to one’s mind.
Take this creature, for instance.
Yes, that is a machine projecting a man’s face onto a balloon. He says things like, “Life is but a tunnel of darkness. Are we truly alive, or are we toys?” And yes, it’s all with a drowsy monotone.
Is this normal, to have captions of guesswork?
This Garden of Eden painting creeps me out. An attendant noticed me with my camera and mentioned that the dog had originally been covered by a bush, but in restoration they discovered him there in the corner. Just look at that thing. No one else is looking out at the viewer. Why that dog? And those eyes follow you everywhere in the room.
Creepy demon dog.
And some pieces…look, I don’t get super-modern stuff. I just don’t. When an empty acrylic case can be put on display as art, and labeled as such and donated as such, and things like big pieces of blue plastic are leaned against the wall and declared art, I just…
I like words.
Not that all pieces are like this, to be clear. There’s this beautiful creation by artist Dave Chihuly in the Quad Pavilion:
Some other pieces that are just plain neat, such as the powder-wig boys up for some badminton. (Yes, the maintenance fellow is a sculpture. He’s been around for decades.)
In our sojourning through the exhibits we came across a suitcase.
I got super excited. I was determined to take a picture to show you all the inside: a pond swimming with life. A statue of a father’s feet can be seen, with part of a baby’s body, its toes just above the water.
But try as I might, I could not get a good position. Bo reluctantly offered to hold information card about the sculpture. Here’s a little more information about the piece.
I hulked over, on my knees, on my toes, shoving my camera in. Bo gave up on me and looked at another piece in the room.
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP
Outside of my head, I slid backwards and whirled around the corner, poking at my phone under the guise of sending a text. A security guard walked briskly by as I approached Bo with my phone and said, “Did you see this? This is very interesting.”
Inside my head: “OH SHIT! They’re gonna fine me and ban me from art! Run for the post-moderns, RUN! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”
Bo, of course, found this to be hiLARiuos. “You know, I can’t take you anywhere. You bonk your head into display glass at the public museum. You walked into a glass wall when we came here last year. Now you’ve got The Man after you.” He proceeds to then make “BEEP” sounds any time I try to take a picture.
A little later we came upon a strange room of pottery without captions. There’s a little model room display behind some glass.
Next to this little room is a bellrope marked “Pull.”
“Don’t you touch that,” Bo said.
“But it says, ‘Pull.'”
“Well I don’t know you, Miss Whoever You Are.”
I pulled it.
(I know, I’m as bad as Alice in Alice in Wonderland.)
A recording started: a wee ghost stepped into the miniature room and described the pottery collection around us. It was neatly filmed: she pulled pottery out of the trunk nearby, sat in the little chair, laid things on the table. Here’s a little more information about the room, as I’m clearly not doing it justice.
“See? I was supposed to pull that cord,” I declared triumphantly to Bo.
And proceeded to walk into the glass door of an uber-bright Spanish exhibit of “playful art.”
Bo laughed. And despite the annoyed security guards, I laughed, too. Because it’s moments like these make breaks from writing so very necessary.
We can’t create life in stories if we don’t live a little. And sometimes that living does seem little–I’m not trying to rescue refugees from Mexico. I’m just going to the art museum with my husband.
But it’s in these everyday moments that we remember what it’s like to be around other people, listen to other people, roll our eyes at other people, skee-daddle from other people. It’s in such moments that we remember what it means to hold another’s hand, share a smile, tell a joke that sets the other groaning. And through these everyday moments we find new imagination to channel into our worlds.
So don’t forget to take a break, writers. That giant green ceramic chicken ain’t gonna rock itself.