Friday, July 27, 2012

Expecting the Worst - Fiction

(Attribution for the envelope photo:
©Gautier and http://www,

Short fiction prompted by a writing prompt on the Write On Edge blog to write a stand-alone scene, fiction or memoir, in 500 words or fewer, involving a handwritten letter:

Expecting the Worst

Marlena jerked the letter from under a catalog. She felt guilty for ignoring it, but was so sure it included a reproach, that she had elected to leave it unopened for more than a week.

She had always thought as she got older, reprimands would not upset her, but there she was in her fifties, afraid of being judged. 

The letter was from her cousin Jonathan whom she didn’t much like, but barely knew.  When her mother had died a few weeks earlier, Marlena had called other relatives, but with only a church address for Jon, a minister two thousand miles away, she had informed him in writing. 

Jon responded with a chaotic, handwritten diatribe about how she should be comforted knowing that her mother was with the angels, singing in God’s choir, meeting Jesus, revisiting loved ones. He assured Marlena that none of us ever really die but experience eternal joy and that the Lord would comfort her in her grief. His letter, peppered with “as-you-know and “you-will-agree” phrases, as if he knew Marlena concurred with every word, then did an about-face, rambling on in four additional pages, about the wages of sin and concluding that her mother, a churchgoing woman, had most likely avoided hell. It reminded her of the fire and brimstone sermons she had been subjected to in childhood and from which she had cheerfully escaped as an adult.  

She supposed the letter was meant to comfort, but it only angered her.  She was vexed at Jon’s audacity in assuming that everyone believed as he did. She didn’t want to dismiss Jon’s beliefs nor offend him, only to motivate him to pause before making such assumptions. Carefully, she composed her response:
     Thank you for your kind words regarding the passing of my mother. Even though I am not a follower of her religion, I understand that your beliefs reflect your understanding of our existence and afterlife. 
     My feelings and beliefs differ in that I cherish the memories and experiences and wisdom my mother passed on to me as a living legacy of her existence and her love for me.
     I appreciate your kindness and thank you for your thoughts.

A week later, the second letter had arrived.  From her childhood, Marlena was used to fist-shaking preachers berating those who disagreed with them. She was sure Jon had resorted to a stance of moral superiority, that he would pronounce her doomed to hellfire in another tirade. 

Still raw with grief, she didn’t want to hear it again, but finally slid a blade under the envelope’s flap, releasing its contents. 

No flames shot from the single sheet that fell to her desk. In Jon’s messy scrawl, she read:
Since I have lost touch with many family members, please send the addresses of our other cousins.

Marlena sighed with relief, reminding herself that she needed to cease wasting her energy by expecting the worst, even from her most sanctimonious relatives.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Connections - Non-fiction

In response to a prompt on Theme Thursday. This week's theme:


I just completed reading “The Know-It-All” by A.J. Jacobs, his account of his time spent reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica from A to Z. That sounds duller than tarnished brass, but it is an interesting and amusing read. Jacobs lists oddball facts about things he’s read. Throughout, he sprinkles anecdotes about his childhood and current situation, including his hilarious insights on life gleaned from the 65,000 Britannica entries and many failed attempts at proving to himself & others that he has become smarter during his 33-volume journey. 
Shaw posing as The Thinker for
photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn

During an interview with the host of Jeopardy, Alex Trebek told him, “I’m curious about everything ---even things that don’t interest me.” Wow! I think. Alex and I are kindred spirits.

Once Jacobs completed his quest, one of his conclusions was that “everything is connected.” 

I’m sure that is obvious to many, yet the way we are taught history in Social Studies class, biology in Science class, one has a tendency to compartmentalize knowledge and fail to see how everything is indeed linked.

However, when I studied art in college, I needed to know chemistry and geology to develop ceramic glazes and I used geometry to calculate materials needed for art projects. I noticed connections between the creative insights of artists, writers, musicians, and scientists. 

Six degrees of separation has never seemed like an off-the-wall concept to me.  Many times I discover that there are only one or two degrees of separation.

Twain posing in the cap and gown he
received when awarded an honorary
degree from Oxford. The photo was
taken at Stormfield, Twain's Redding CT
home. Coburn's autochromes were among
the first colored photos.
I especially notice such connections in my reading. During the time I read “The Know It All” I also listened to the audio version of “Mark Twain, Man in White,” covering Twain’s final four years.  On two occasions, on the same day, I read entries that touched on the same incident or person in both books.

In the Twain book, the author touched on the famous trial of Harry Thaw who killed Stanford White in 1906.  Twain was on the list of potential jurors, but was excused because he was acquainted with several people involved in the case, including one lawyer.  When the author mentioned that Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity, I wondered if that were the first instance of that plea being a successful legal strategy.  Later that day I read that Jacob’s wife had been quizzing him on his knowledge and asked who was the first person to successfully use an insanity plea.  Jacobs guessed Thaw.  He was wrong.  But there was Thaw and the Stanford White murder trial, twice in one day.

A few days later, Jacob mentioned a Britannica entry about George Bernard Shaw's nude photograph taken in England by art photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn. The same day, when listening to the Twain book, I learned that Coburn had arrived, unannounced, at Twain’s home to request that the author pose for him, albeit fully clothed. Shaw's naked photo was mentioned there, too. Other odd connections were that Shaw and Twain were friends and that Coburn’s middle name, Langdon, was Twain’s wife’s maiden name.

There is one final obscure connection between A.J. Jacobs and my own father. One of my father's pleasures was grabbing any volume of our home Collier's encyclopedia, opening it to a random page and reading. I believe he thought of it as the college education he never had the opportunity to pursue. 

I hear TV detectives repeatedly say they don’t believe in coincidences, but they happen to me all the time. Or, perhaps, I just pay attention when I notice links between two seemingly unrelated events.

Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us. -Sargent Shriver

The Creative Process: ATCs (Artist Trading Cards)

This post was inspired by Mama' Kat's writing prompt: When was the last time you made something with your hands and what was it?

I’ve considered myself an artist since I was first praised for my kindergarden drawings.  I studied art in college and continued to make art through my career as an art teacher.  My first loves were drawing and painting.  But then I became interested in printmaking, later ceramics, and spent many years creating tapestry weavings.  Eventually I returned to drawing and painting, but later began to create digital art and more recently I have gotten into artistic photography.

Now in my sixties, I’m not interested in dragging large framed pieces to juried exhibits. But I developed an interest in something that is much more manageable.  I’ve been creating ATCs ---Artist Trading Cards.

They are small cards, the size of baseball cards (2.5 X 3.5 inches) made to trade with other artists. One can purchase pre-cut cards, or cut your own. They should be on a  fairly stiff background such as cardstock or cardboard.  Except for the dimensions, there are no set rules about their creation.  Some people draw or paint them, many create collages, digital works, or even 3-D creations. Some are stitched, quilted or made from metal. Really, anything is possible.

I tend to be rather eclectic about my work.  I can create something decorative, then a realistic drawing, followed by an abstract design, and then move on to a collage made with anything I happen to find lying about my home. I look at a shape or color and let my imagination run wild.

Below you will see an assortment of the cards I have created recently with a bit of information about each one. There are more than 30 cards here, but I have created hundreds of them. At the end of this post, please find information about trading for or purchasing my cards.
"Ace of Spades"
Collage, metallic paper & marker,
sparkly & metallic nail polish applied
to playing card. Playing cards are
the perfect size for ATCs, so it is
fun to create my own version of
playing cards, but I can also paste
things over them.  ATCs are also a
great way to use up old nail polish.

Permanent & metallic markers,
sparkly nail polish, stickers (cut
from free return-address labels)
applied to a piece of a Dunkin Donut
box featuring the word "AMERICA."

"Angles 2" 
Pieces of my own digital designs, some printed
on sparkly paper, permanent markers.


"Angles 6" 
Pieces of my own digital designs, some printed
on sparkly paper, permanent & metallic
markers, assorted papers.

"Antique Roses" 
Original digital design available
on matte or glossy photo paper.

"Autumn Leaves" 
Collage, digital designs, permanent,
metallic, & sparkly markers, colored
pencils, self-stick tiles, assorted papers.

"Autumn Leaves 2" 
Collage, digital designs, permanent
& sparkly markers, colored pencils,
assorted papers.

"Blue 2" 
Colored pencils, clear blender,
permanent markers.

"Blue Jazz" 
Permanent & metallic markers, applied to a
'found' background.

"Blue Star" 
Piece of my own digital design,
permanent markers, felt-tip pens.

"Buddha Rays" 
Sparkly metallic paper, metallic nail polish,
permanent & metallic markers, applied to a
'found' background.

"Burnished Silver" 
Aluminum foil, acrylic paint, metallic markers,
self-stick 'gems.'

"Cow Pie" 
Reproduction of an original work rendered in
watercolor, colored pencils, ink, and collaged
photos of cows.

Collage, digital designs, permanent
& sparkly markers, colored pencils,
assorted papers.

Permanent, metallic  & sparkly
markers applied to a piece of a
Dunkin Donuts box.

Collage, assorted papers, self-stick tiles and
'gems,' handmade lace, sparkly nail polish.
I purchased the lace from the lacemaker in 1968
in Brazil. I still have several small pieces which
work well for ATCs.


"Flowers and Lace" 
Acrylic paint, metallic nail polish,
handmade lace. (See "Enlaced"
for info on the lace.)


"Geometrics 3" 
Permanent & metallic markers applied to a
piece of an advertising flyer from the
Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

"Hot Air Balloon" 
Permanent & metallic markers, applied to a
piece of a tissue-box design. The original
design resembled quilt stitching in a
decorative pattern, but when I completed
my ATC, I thought it resembled a hot air balloon.

Colored pencils and clear blending marker.
I took many photos of pears for a still-life
assignment for a photography class. Here, I
took one photo, removed all the color &
reduced it to mere outlines. Then I colored it
with colored pencils.

"Red Parrot" 
Photo printed on metallic paper.
Photo: August 2011, taken at the Bird Park
near Iguaçu Falls in Brazil.

"Rhapsody in Blue 5" 
Permanent and metallic markers
applied to a 'found' background.

Acrylic paint, collaged paper stripes,
applied to a 'found' background.
I often use pieces cut from old greeting
cards for backgrounds. I look for
plain (white or colored) or
lightly-printed designs.

Permanent & sparkly markers, self-stick


"Soupçon de Warhol" 
One of my original digital designs
available printed on matte, glossy,
or metallic paper.

Permanent & metallic markers, sparkly
nail polish applied to a piece of a
Special K box.  I look for boxes.
postcards, & cardboard packaging for
words or designs that might be useful.

"Spring Blooms" 
Acrylic & opalescent paint.
"Stars and Stripes" 
Permanent and metallic markers,
collaged pieces, sparkly paper,
applied to cardboard packaging

"Starbucks' Mermaid" 
Acrylic & opalescent paint, permanent
& metallic markers, sparkly nail
polish applied to a piece cut from a
cardboard Starbucks' coffee cup.

Permanent & metallic makers, colored pencils,
clear blending marker.

"Textures and Patterns" 
One of my original digital designs
available printed on matte, glossy,
or metallic paper. Most of this was
created from scratch on Photoshop,
but I also used part of
one of my photos of a rusty
storm-drain grate as a design element.

"Woman With a Pearl Earring" 
Permanent and sparkly markers,
colored pencils, self-stick 'gem.'
"Three of Diamonds" 
Permanent and metallic markers, sparkly nail
polish applied to a playing card.
"The Woman with
Barack Obama's Smile"

Colored pencils, metallic markers,
clear blending marker.
I copied a bunch of photos of
famous people that I found online.
In Photoshop, I erased all but the
mouth or nose, or eyes, then
printed the results on
drawing paper. With pencil, I lightly
drew in a new face around that
part. On this one, I used colored
pencils to color it, adding pink to
the lips to turn this into a woman.
I still have many to complete
including Mitt Romney's hair,
Marilyn Monroe's mouth, Humphrey
Bogart's eyes ---and more.

 If anyone is interested in trading or purchasing ATCs, leave a comment beginning with DO NOT POST. (I monitor all comments, so I will not publish it.) Include the title of the card that interests you along with your email address and we will work out something. If we trade, it will be an even exchange with no money being involved. If you want to purchase a card, most cards, depending on the time involved in making them, are $2.50 -$4.50 each.