I have not written in a long time.
I have been busy. Super busy. The minute the year passed Thanksgiving it was a full speed ahead, balls to the wall, all hands-on deck kind of thing.
High school swimming starts the Monday after Turkey Day. GO CCSD! I can’t believe I just wrote that. I am not a “Go…!” kind of person. However, the Concord Carlisle Swim and Dive team is made up of such a great group of ninety plus kids, you cannot help but be enthusiastic. The season is ten to twelve weeks of nonstop swimming, weightlifting, morning practices, swim meets and social gatherings. The social gathering part is the most work. There is a party every weekend, sometimes two. Thank goodness for Charlie, who drove Henry EVERYWHERE, allowing me to get a decent night’s sleep.
Then December happened. The holiday season is usually my marathon, but this year it was a more of a sprint given that Thanksgiving was late—why did the calendar gods do that? I have come to look at the month as one big, giant checklist. I am not alone in this view. I was listening to a Moth podcast a few weeks ago and the storyteller was trying to figure out why adults lose the ability to feel the magic of Christmas; that feeling which fills every corner of the house when you are a child. He came to the same conclusion that I did. The checklist.
I like my life to be scheduled and predictable. I welcome a checklist. Every Sunday evening, I scribble and doodle what I have to do for the upcoming week, communications, kids’ activities, chores projects, extras, social engagements, etc., on a five-and-a-half-inch by eight-and-a-half-inch piece of scrap paper. I refer back to it several times a day, adding and subtracting thoughts and items, crossing things off when complete and moving chores to the next day when I procrastinate. Once, I misplaced the list in a pile of recycling in a mad dash to clean up the kitchen. I was confused for the rest of the week. “It is art and autobiographical,” according to my friend Paul. Someday I plan to use all my lists as #futurewallpaper.
I am in my element when I organize the holiday checklist. Since it is pretty much the same every year and I usually have most of the shopping done in August, I can jump right in. This year it promised to be even easier to put together. Around Thanksgiving, with some cajoling from Henry, Emlen admitted he that knew Santa was not real. I think he had figured it out a few years before but was unwilling to voice it out loud. I noticed Emlen’s body language change when he finally confessed, “Yeah, I know.” He stood up taller. He seemed cooler. He flipped his hair a bit more. He was older.
Putting sentiment aside, I took the opportunity to begin loudly chanting my mantra “I am Christmas.” It was the end of staying up late to wrap and stash presents. It was the end of keeping up with all the little lies. It was the end of having to make up new little lies to accommodate Emlen’s endless questions as he tried to trip me up and force an “Aha! I knew Santa was not real” moment. And the best of all, it was the end of waking up at two in the morning realizing that I forgot to fill the Advent calendar and move the elf. I handed the elf moving job to Emlen. He happily tortured his brother for twenty-four days. The elf creeps Henry out.
However, December was chaos; too much of LIFE happened. I should remember that every holiday one of us winds up at a doctor’s office, an Urgent Care facility, or the ER, but I don’t. Ear infections were standard fare when the kids were little. Also, we fought constant CF exacerbations over the course of Emlen’s childhood, which should be going away now because he knows Santa is not real and he is taller, cooler and flips his hair well. From now on, we should be in for, maybe, one or two exacerbations a year. It’s not like he is licking every single mirror at Disney World anymore.
In addition to the regular kid’s getting sick stuff, there were the special medical events that made the holidays even more memorable—or forgettable depending on how you want to look at it. One Christmas Christian wound up at Emerson with pancreatitis from eating too much pate. He had made a lot and we were trying to finish it. We had not yet figured out that you could freeze it. Then, last year, after two rush visits to the pediatricians’ office—one on a Sunday morning—Henry wound up in the ER with a mono diagnosis. And then there was my whole out-of-the-blue appendicitis thing—on our birthday weekend. ** Really, it never fails.
This year was not any different. Emlen woke up on a Sunday morning with a rash—what is with needing to see doctors on a weekend? Normally, I would have slathered him with hydrocortisone cream and waited until it was better—he has sensitive itchy skin from the excess salt his body produces—but this time he had little red bumps everywhere, including his palms and the bottoms of his feet. After numerous phone calls and visits to the pediatrician and the CF Clinic, it was determined that his new CF treatment, Trikafta, was the cause. Emlen fell into the ten percent of patients who develop a rash as a side effect. The only thing to do was to take him off the drug and allow his body to heal. After three weeks of clearing his system he could challenge again. If he had side effects in the second round, he would have to embark on desensitization protocol.
“But this is supposed to be his miracle drug,” I repeated to every doctor. They assured me that Emlen would eventually be able to take it. He was not allergic. His body was reacting to working in a different way. But, it might be a process rather than a simple pill popping exercise.
It was heartbreaking. In just two days off the medication all of his CF symptoms came back, in full force. *
I did get an artificial Christmas tree out of the whole thing, because I had a meltdown on the way home from the CF clinic. While on speaker phone with the family, I asked if we could scale back the holidays. Everyone agreed; it did seem a bit much this year. All of our hopes were pinned on three little pills a day and they had just been taken away. Even Emlen, who talks cheerfully all the time, was moodily silent. But then Henry asked if we could still have stockings, his favorite part. Soon after Emlen wanted to know if that meant there would be no presents. Christian piped in regarding the holiday cards. They were really not OK with my “less is more” proposal—I love the modernists, but no one else in my family does. To soothe me they offered up the artificial tree, “If it is going to make the holidays less stressful…”
I have been lobbying for a faux tree for years. Just pull it out of the attic, set it up and plug it in. All in 15 minutes. No hangry family arguments at the tree lot. No storing the tree in the garage for days because we are too busy with swim meets to set it up. No repairing the stand every year. No back and forth to Ace to get new lights and to pick up the always forgotten tree waste bag. No cleaning up huge water spills because keeping a Christmas tree hydrated requires one to be a Twister expert and we are not. No dried-up withered mess that drops all its needles when someone merely walks into the room by New Year’s. No hauling the carcass to the green waste facility in sub-arctic temperatures. No discovering pine needles under the rug in August. My dream. Clean. Efficient. Simple.
However, my fifteen-minute tree turned into days of work. At one point I had three artificial Christmas trees in our living room: the first one that arrived broken, the second one that was lost in a Fed-Ex shipping warehouse for weeks and the third one that was supposed to replace the first two. Henry and Emlen plotted for days on how we could keep at least two of them. Our house is not that big. FedEx came and hauled them away. I had to call twice to arrange the pick-up.
I thought I would get some writing done after December 25th. It is usually pretty quiet here between the two holidays. But I had no time. On New Year’s Day, Emlen and I hightailed it to the west coast for my mother’s wedding. When she asked if we could make it, just a few weeks before, I was unsure. Excuses flooded my head. “It is after the holidays and I will be exhausted.” “I will have to pull the kids out of school.” “Henry will miss swimming.” “Should we really put Emlen on a plane during flu season?” “It’s my mom’s fourth wedding.” And so on…
I was still on the fence a few days later when I had breakfast with a comedian. Her eyes got wide with excitement as I told her my dilemma. She asked if she could come as my plus one. “Elizabeth, imagine the fodder! A fourth wedding with all the layers of family, all that baggage. It will be fantastic. Sit at the bar with your fake drink and take notes. You have to go.”
She was right about having to go, but she was not right about the fodder. There was none. It was a lovely three days. We really like Peter and his family. The preparations were simple and the ceremony lovely. The high point of the day were the flower girls, Etta and Perrin, who, following my matron-of-honor advice, made that walk down the aisle last forever. They placed each white rose petal one by one along the edges of the runner. Then they decorated the priest’s feet with the petals they had leftover. Hey, if you are paying for an organist to play all your favorite music you need to make it last. I think we enjoyed several complete symphonies thanks to Etta and Perrin.
OK. There was a bit of fodder. Mom got annoyed at me for walking at four in the morning. I was up and had nothing else to do. “Did you seriously walk in the pitch black? You could have hurt yourself. There are coyotes out there. And mountain lions.” I explained that I had my phone and a flashlight, but she would not let it go. The next morning, I waited until seven when the sun rose. It was not nearly as peaceful. I will take the animal kingdom over Silicon Valley runners and cyclists any day.
Then there was the whole blow-out bar and make up adventure. First, I had my hair blown out, which if you know me, you might think is a little nuts because my hair in about one-and-a-half-inches long. When my mom asked if I wanted the appointment, I tried to explain that my hair was pretty short, but she said that she was sure they could do something with it. “OK. If you say so.” I was curious. I had never been to a blow-out bar.
The stylist tried to do her usual thing with clips, product and several big brushes. It was almost impossible. The clips continuously popped off my head. My hair was dry before the product could set. The brush ran out of hair about a quarter of the way through its turn. The end result looked like my hair was pulled back. It looked good but I think I could have done the same thing at home with water and a comb. Mom’s blow out looked great. She has more hair than I do.
Mom’s make-up was another story. The makeup artist applied pinky-orange hues all over her cheeks and eyes and then painted her lips with a deep orange stain. Orange is not the best color on Mom, especially on her lips. She had her colors done thirty-seven years ago. She is a Summer. She wears pink, blues, greys and purples. She does not wear orange. What was the make-up lady thinking? We remedied the situation with a quick trip to the other make-up store in town. They toned down the orange, boosted the pinks and found a lip gloss that could have been named “Mom’s Mauve.” She looked lovely. The light hints of orange that were left complemented her deep purple dress, a color she chose because she is a Summer.
Oh, almost forgot. Towards the end of the reception, little cousin Hugh had had enough of his sports coat, button-down shirt, bow tie and suspenders. He took them off. All of them. After running around bare chested for a bit, it was suggested that he get dressed. Leaving the button-down shirt, bow tie and suspenders on the floor, he put his sports jacket back on. It was a look. So much so, that several of the uncles did the same. I wish my phone took better pictures in low light and that my focusing skills under pressure were better, but you get the idea…
I am convinced that Hugh will be a leading tastemaker when he is an adult. Or a Blutarsky-esque fraternity brother. It could go either way at this point.
Normally, after the hubbub of the holidays and a quick trip to the west coast, I need a few weeks of doing nothing. I took one day. Only one, because I had to get on top of SWIM to FLIP CF, LifeLineRacing’s first ever swimming fundraiser, although at that point it did not have a name. That was one of the things I had to do, come up with a name.
We went live a about a month ago. It has been a lot. Karen dB, Christian and I have been working every spare minute setting up the registration portal, finding sponsors, pushing the event on different social media platforms and working out the graphics.
I hope people sign up. *** Or donate to the cause. I would like to at least cover our costs this year. ****
Rather than hiring a designer and paying him/her loads of money, I resurrected my almost dead photoshop skills and designed all the posters, banners, flyers, swag and social media announcements. It took a whole weekend of ignoring everyone to remember the basics. I am getting there with the rest. Image technology has improved and I have some catching up to do, but I now have enough skills to put together one of my art projects from last year, “Sisyphus is Not a Myth” aka: The Laundry Photos, 2019: one photo for each and every load for an entire year.
I did six-hundred-and-sixteen loads of laundry last year, above are photos one to six-hundred.
Originally, I thought taking photos of laundry would be something to do that fit within my newly developed creative statement: “exploring the ordinary and the mundane of everyday patterns and routines through art and writing,” but it also unstuck me.
I have been stuck for a while, a long while. Way back in graduate school, I took a required drawing class that concentrated on gesture drawing, still life, self-portraits, nudes and nude self-portraits. The professor was tough. About halfway through the class everyone switched from charcoal to pastels. Except me. Apparently, I was having trouble grasping tonal values. I had to stay with black and white. After a long discussion with the professor I was sent home to sort laundry, “because once you can properly sort laundry into darks, medium lights and whites, you will understand tonal values.” I sorted. I didn’t get it. Where do you put a navy and white striped t-shirt? With the darks? With the whites? Or is it a medium? I even squinted my eyes to blur the colors thinking that would help. All the squinting did was contribute to my crow's feet.
I did not do very well in the class, not because I couldn’t figure out how to sort laundry, but because I refused to hand in the nude self-portrait assignment.
Late last year, while preparing for Sisyphus Is Not a Myth, I began experimenting with laundry photos in color. My kids wear a lot of stripes and patterns, Emlen especially. He really likes to challenge me in the early morning with the most non-matching, super over the top outfit he can put together. Don’t get me wrong, while curating my outfits I prescribe to the theory that you can mix patterns and styles as long as your patterns are different scales and you have at least one consistent color throughout. Emlen goes overboard. So, I thought the soiled piles of patterns and colors would be visually interesting.
However, when I began laying out the color laundry photos into a grid it was a little much. Imagine Emlen’s clothing choices on acid. Actually, it was more than that. It was a Jackson Pollock painting done in Crayola’s neon color crayon line. I switched to the black and white platform and started sorting laundry, again, into darks, mediums, lights and white. It was still just as annoyingly difficult as it was in graduate school.
I take the photos of the laundry with my iPhone and then change them over to black and white. I massage the contrasts in the iPhone editor if they need a little pop and in the beginning most of them did. The first one hundred photos are pretty good. But, due to my tonal value handicap I could not tell, ahead of time, if a shot was going to work. I just snapped a whole bunch and hoped for the best.
Around the hundred and fiftieth photo, I noticed I was faster at sorting laundry and the photos were getting better. I also noticed that I could tell before I took the photo whether it would be good in black and white. I was beginning to understand what my professor had been trying to teach me twenty-five years ago; laundry, when done correctly, is all about tonal values.
Thank you, to my professor. I am now unstuck and find working with tonal values and colors much easier. I get it. I don’t remember your name, but I do remember the nude model. He was superb with his dark glistening skin and rippling physique. And he was so well endowed that he made every male student in the class feel inadequate. I thought that was pretty awesome since architecture can be such a male dominated profession.
I am finishing up Sisyphus is Not a Myth. I am resizing each and every one of the six-hundred-and-sixteen laundry photos into two inch squares via Photoshop. Then I am organizing them into a grid of twenty-two by twenty-eight photos. I was lucky that I ended up with a good number. Imagine having to work with six-hundred-and-seventeen laundry photos.
*He is back on the drug and doing great. As predicted by his team, it was “just” a drug reaction.
**Christian and I have birthdays one day apart. There is always a “birthday weekend.”
*** EVENT POSTPONED: SWIM to FLIP CF Fundraiser: Due to the current public health situation, and in the interest of the safety of our participants, we are postponing our SWIM to FLIP CF fundraising event until Fall 2020. In the hope to maximize the impact of the event to the CF community, we will continue to register swimmers and enlist sponsors. We are incredibly grateful for everyone who has signed up to swim and their fundraising efforts, as well as for the generosity of our sponsors. Be safe, be healthy and Suit Up For #65Roses!
****Emlen is still a bit short on reaching his third and final fundraising goal. If you haven’t donated to his two-hour non-stop swim it is time to pony up. You know who you are.
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