Saturday, October 18, 2014

For Jeff Phelps, aka Tejano, & Cate Poe

Pho0t stolen from Cate Poe.

This post is for Cate Poe’s Tejano, aka Jeff Phelps.  Whom I suspect will learn & master more about Paper Mache than I remember from all those art classes.

As a quick aside, I am going to point out that the font I prefer is Comic Sans MS, which a link on Facebook tells me is not just a cringe worthy, but a contentious casual font.

Somehow that pleases me & Cate & Tejano will understand.

Of course, Tejano, you can find any number of recipes for Paper Mache online, but Cate is a writer supportive of other writers & both inspires & encourages me, so I am going to share a bit of what I learned as a child.

And recently, in my Catrina creation & over the Internet.

Tejano, the most basic recipe for Paper Mache involves strips of newspaper, flour & water.

To make the glue, use one part flour & two parts water.  The result of mixing it should be a runny glue.  Because I live in a reclaimed swamp with high humidity, I added salt.  And because I wanted to smell something other than the glue it becomes, I added cinnamon.  (I stored the paste in a Mason Jar in the fridge & added water if necessary when I brought it out for additional layers.)

This is not an artist’s recipe.

In public school art class, we built a form of wire (or in my Catrina case, use a skeleton from a Dollar Store) & then dipped strips of newspaper in the flour glue, wrapping the strips around the form.

Always sculpting the desired result.

The larger the wire frame, the easier it is to achieve that result.

And then you painted it.

Because I was dealing with a skeleton not much taller than a Barbie (although with no breasts, huge hip bones & feet), my attempts at Paper Mache were limited by my desire to keep her frame as a skeleton. 

Somehow the whole process reminded me that it is more difficult to write a poem, where every word is so necessary & so apparent, than to create something in a larger venue. 

Of course, there are far more sophisticated recipes for Paper Mache glue.

But sometimes, basics work.

Photo also usurped from Cate Poe.

Jaki Jean: Completing & Unveiling Mi Primer Calavera Catrina

My first attempt at creating my own Calavera Catrina is complete.

La Catrina’s image as the Lady of Death is rooted in ancient Aztec culture.  Mictecacihuatl, goddess of death and Lady of Mictlan, the underworld, ruled over the bones in the underworld.  She also presided over a month long festival honoring the dead.  With the arrival of Christianity, the Aztec Lady of Death & Her festival were appropriated & became Day of the Dead.

In the late 1800’s, a Mexican printmaker & artist, Jose Guadalupe Posada, became famous for calaveras  (skulls or skeletons).  Posada  eventually used his images & illustrations to expose the corruption of the government of the dictator Porfirio Díaz, to an illiterate majority of impoverished Mexicans suffering under Díaz’s regime.

One illustration, "La Calavera Catrina" published in 1910, featured the face & shoulders of skeleton dressed as a lady of high society.

By Jose Guadalupe Posada, circa 1910

And Catrina became a symbol of the revolution.

In 1947 the amazing artist Diego Rivera placed a full size Catrina, elegantly clad,  in the center of  his 50-foot mural,   Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central  ("Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park") in the Hotel del Prado in Mexico City. 

Catrina holds the 10-year-old Rivera's hand while Frida Kahlo stands behind them in traditional Mexican dress. To Catrina’s left is Jose Guadalupe Posada, offering her his arm.

At the same time La Catrina entrusts one bony hand to Posada, she firmly holds onto the young Diego’s grasp with her other.  A powerful tribute by Diego to the man who found an Aztec goddess & used her to created the textual braid Rivera took & made his own.

In making my first La Calavera Catrina, the goddess of death & revolutionary & usurped icon of Day of the Dead, it pleased me to learn about her history & her evolution into the amazing cultural & spiritual icon she is today.

I wonder about this goddess turned revolutionary rewritten as a cultural icon & I realize that in a former life, I would be exploring this curious metamorphosis.  I still may.

My Catrina is a most humble effort, but I like her.  She is far from the elegant ladies who inspired me to create her.  But she is so, so very Jaki Jean.

And I am already planning her sisters.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Jaki Jean on Sharing One of Jean's Memories with my Willimon Cousins

So, this story is for my cousins Jenny, Suzanne, Vickie & Laura.  Because it is one of Jean’s memory’s about their father, Ed.

My uncle Ed remains my favorite uncle.  I used to listen to the discussions he, the not to the right & my father Jack, so to the right, engaged in.   Perhaps that is part of the reason I do not lean to the right.

Tonight, after I described to Jeab the amazing wedding cake Ed’s daughter Suzanne made for her own daughter’s wedding, Jean asked me about Ed, if he was still alive & she said he must be almost ninety by now.

I tell her that Ed is a bit beyond ninety, that his daughters visit him, & that he is still Ed, but in a different way than she remembers.  I tell her that he still recalls details from World War II & can still talk about rocks & fossils & geology.  I tell her that I think Ed’s essence is still there – but I think that he just can’t quite grasp it.

Then Jean tells me a story.

I took a man to dinner at Ed & Janette’s.  Not your father.  Just a boy I was dating.  Ed gave my date a lecture on how much things cost.  Rent, utilities, food, gas.  It was a long lecture.

Later, we laughed, because we were not seriously dating.  Just friends going to a family dinner.

As I leave the room to record Jean’s memory, I remember something Jean told me, when my Aunt Janette had a stroke.

I don’t know how my world will survive without Janette & Ed.  They have always been there for me, part of me.

And so now, I try to keep that connection, as long as Jean remembers it, by sharing posts from Ed & Janette’s amazing daughters, Jenny, Suzanne, Vickie & Laura.

So Jean doesn’t feel alone.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Jaki Jean on Being Friends with Conservatives

So, today, my friend Shirley Isbell, who is the right to my left, posted an interview on Fox News about Greg Abbott’s response to a recent ad by Wendy Davis’s campaign in the quest for governor.

Now, first you must understand that Shirley & I have known each other for almost thirty years.  We both raised two sons in Meadows Place, Texas.  Shirley was a stay at home mom, I was a working single mom & you think we would not have anything in common.

But we both had sons in the same school & we met up when our eldest sons were Tiger Cubs in Cub Scouts.  Shirley & her husband John were very active in the Scouts & the community.  They were & are, amazing.

I was a Den Mother by default & I created the first Den Doodle in the pack.  It was quite fine. (Give me an art project & I excel).   And there was the historic rendition of “Itsy Bitsy Spider” by Carly Simon.  Complete with props.   And a huge spider.

Shirley loves to tell the story of when I told her that I could not go to work without earrings.  That I would stop at a Wal Mart or Target to buy earrings until I learned to keep a spare in my desk drawer.

Anyway, Shirley & I go way back.  When we reconnected, via Facebook, she was serving on our local City Council, clearly a Conservative.  In response to her friend request, I told her that I kept my FB page limited to family & interesting friends & most of them were not conservative.  I worried that being my FB friend might prove a problem for her position in the community.

“Friendship transcends politics.”  Shirley responded.

And that mantra guides me today. 

This afternoon, when I responded to her post about Greg Abbott’s interview, Shirley posted with the same grace of that original response to my concerns. 

Davis’s ad featured an empty wheelchair.  Greg Abbott lives in a wheelchair.

Whoever created this ad lost the message with the image.  The message was important.  No one will remember the message.  Everyone will remember the image.

So, at the end of our discussion, Shirley posted this:

"As we have discussed on many occasion, friendship transcends politics. If or when we ever need help, we will have each others backs in any circumstance regardless of political affiliation. I do not believe that all is fair in love, war, or politics. We should all strive to be honest and ethical regardless of the outcome."

And that is friendship.

But I won't be voting to the right.

My friend & fellow writer Cate Poe advised me to post a link to the the ad in contention.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Jaki Jean on Creating a Catrina

Every year since my friend & fellow writer Cate Poe has resided in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, she posts pictures of Catrinas.  Not just at this time of year, near the time of the Day of the Dead, but whenever she & her consort Tejano encounter them across the Mexican landscape they both so love to explore.

And I have become obsessed with wanting to make one.

Catrinas are a tradition in Mexico, especially during the fall & leading up to the Day of the Dead.  There is a bit of debate – did Catrinas develop in Mexico from a European influence or did they develop as a natural process, merging indigenous beliefs with the influence of the Catholic Church.

Catrinas are magnificent creatures.  Female, with the body of skeletons, garishly dressed & adorned.  They celebrate death, indicating that life continues long after the body dies.

One last thought before signing off to watch Charlie Rose & to continue reading Javier Marías for the first time (Marías may be the only author with longer sentences than Charles Dickens & like with Dickens, I keep reading).  I made a fine chicken broth from cooking down a roast chicken today. The kitchen is in a shambles, which will drive me crazy tomorrow morning.  

But it takes a lot of time & thought to plan out a Catrina, albeit a small Catrina.

Day 1 of Assembly:  Because this is my first Catrina & my Paper Mache skills ceased after the first & last piñata I made, I have a strict budget.  Recycle what is tucked into boxes & bins, purchase as many items, including the skeleton form, at dollar stores.  Splurge on fabulous fabric roses for the neckline of her blouse & her hair.

At the local Dollar Tree, I found a skeleton to serve as a form (do all skeletons have broad shoulders & obscenely large feet ?), & colored raffia ribbon.  

Then I removed a dress from a Gabriel doll (think Xena the Warrior Princess) to turn into a skirt.  The Gabriel doll, along with Xena, was a in a box of red headed Barbies, from another life & another time & another mindset.

Because I did not want to use the flour I purchase for my kitchen to make glue, I bought flour at the Dollar Tree.  I also found some black ribbon to give the semblance of hair across my Catrina’s skull.

The raffia ribbon is quite cumbersome – I have to unravel it to its full width.  As I start to form sleeves of her blouse on her arms, my Catrina takes on a personality of her own.  Her form resists the raffia ribbon until I retrieve a small paintbrush & lightly coat each layer of ribbon with the  dollar store flour glue.

One thing I have learned this afternoon:  Paper Mache is not as easy as it is in my memory of art classes or that piñata.

As I wrap expanded strips of colored raffia across her skeleton, I cannot decide if I am creating a Catrina, or mummifying her.

And then I remember that she is a plastic skeleton & mummifying her won’t help.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Jaki Jean on Drizzling Rain, Snowflakes & Promise

This afternoon, when I went outside to bring in the trash can, it was raining.  A drizzle,  the kind of rain that I love after so many years of living in a reclaimed swamp.  Where rain dominates.

Although I still remember & cherish the downpours in the desert that brought the seemingly barren landscape to life.

A drizzle is a rain for walking, if your shoes are not adorable canvas Bobs or Toms.  A rain for thinking.  A rain for dreaming & rejoicing.

And sometimes, over the years, in dreams & reality, a rain for finding a secluded spot, spreading out a quilt & making love.  A background for great sex.

A drizzle is the finest of rain.  It makes my hair curl & frizz & drops on my face like tiny promises. 

All those tiny drops of promise for sustenance, renewal & quenching an inexplicable thirst.

Years ago, I had an afternoon that came close to a drizzle rain.  I left my roommate to clean up the dishes from a Thanksgiving dinner we hosted to catch a plane to Connecticut, to spend the weekend with a man I lusted after for two years before he finally took me out to dinner & eventually to bed.

He left his job & life in the inner city of Houston to return to Connecticut because his knees sweat & he missed wearing sweaters & shorts.  And of course, there was nothing to keep him in Texas, although I desperately wanted to be that something.

During that extended weekend, we had dinner with his parents, took a trip into New York City, ate seafood on Long Island Sound & felt the first snow on the edge of the home of William F. Buckley, Jr.

An odd choice for this liberal Democrat, I know.  But I was quite enamored of William F. Buckley, Jr.’s voice & his command of the English language.

The first snowflakes fell gently, like the drizzling rain I love.  It was beautiful.  The snowflakes weren’t cold, just different than a drizzle.  Lovely, but different. 

I stood before Buckley’s home & let the snowflakes fall on my face & I knew.

The snowflakes offered no promises, but marked an ending. 

I would never return to that same place.

A drizzle of rain never marks an ending,  just a promise.

For thinking, dreaming & rejuvenation.  And sometimes, to quench an insatiable thirst.

Snowflakes are another story.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Jean, Jaki Jean & Memories

The play set abandoned by a love of soccer & lacrosse.  Photo stolen by permission.
This evening, I told my mother Jean a story, sharing with her something from my Facebook friends Andres & Amy.  About Andres chauffeuring their daughter Sophia to her first homecoming dance & about their son Cayo telling his parents that he no longer needed the play set in their back yard but more room for soccer & lacrosse.

Jean wanted to know how old my friends’ daughter was, how old was young man whom her parents think of as “Sophia’s friend who is a boy.”  The age of their son Cayo, who no longer needed a play set but more room to explore his passions.

And then we talked about the wooden fort & play set in Jack & Jean’s yard that was such a huge part of raising my sons Nick & Sam.  I told Jean that Andres & Amy were selling the set & another family would enjoy it.  We kept ours, I said, far too long

For the Ettinger related children who came after my two sons.

For Felicia Marie, Emily Kate, Johnny Alexander & Sara Jane.

Like my sons, the grandchildren of Jack & Jean grew up & I stopped using the swings to relax & think & remember.

Eventually, neglected & falling apart, the fort & swing set had to be dismantled.

Jean said:

You know, someone said we should not have got rid of it.  That there would always be another child.

I reminded her that the set was over 25 years old, that the company, who gave a lifetime guarantee, was out of business.  And then I realized, she is not remembering the fort & swing set I bought when Nicholas was two years old.  She is not remembering the swing set Sam climbed to the top & across when he was still a toddler.

So I ask her if she is remembering the swing set my father’s parents Papa John & Mother Helen bought when I was a little girl.  The one that traveled with us from College Station to Dallas to El Paso &  to Meadows Place, Texas.  Although the fabulous slide, taller than the top of the swing set, did not make it from El Paso to Meadows Place.

Jean grew quiet & I grew frustrated.  I look into her face & say: 

Please don’t start a story & not finish it.

I say it & I know that there will be more unfinished stories, remnants of stories, beginnings without endings & endings without beginnings.  Seemingly unconnected bits & pieces.   Because the memories & stories of Alzheimer’s & dementia are fractal, not linear.

For too many minutes, Jean is quiet.  She is thinking, giving herself time to form the words Parkinson’s has made difficult for her to express.  Then she says:

I don’t want to waste your time.

Because I don’t want to weep, I laugh & tell her that listening to her memories is never a waste of time.  Eventually she responds.

For a long time, there was just you.  I did not have Janet until after your father graduated from A&M.   But first, we went to Schenectady.  You told the neighbors I was a bad mother because I never kept Kool-Aid or suckers.  You used to play with a little boy named David.

Jean grew quiet for a long time & I said: That was a lot of remembering for one night. Perhaps it is time for us to go to bed.

As a writer who appreciates fractal thought & discourse, I want to hold onto every fragment, however disjointed, of my mother’s memories.  Because in those pieces, in those fragments, is her story.

Or someone’s story.