Thursday, January 18, 2007

My sister, Yankee Transferred, reminds me so much of my mother.

I remember asking my aunt one day what my mother was like as a girl/young woman. My aunt peered over her reading glasses, and pronounced, solemnly, "Your mother was extremely smart".

That wasn't really news to me, nor was it exactly what I was looking for. I was looking for the chinks in the armor, the vulnerability that I knew must be there, that would make her life more understandable. But that was a side of my mother that she had a hard time showing. I'm not sure why. Sometimes I'm afraid that the answer is that she had so many irresponsible or emotionally troubled family members to take care of that she didn't feel as though she could afford to let her guard down. So she shouldered all of our burdens and trudged on, doing the best she could.

Her mother, my grandmother, had spent most of her life in an asylum, in various degrees of depression or dementia, starting when my mother was a very young girl. My mother took it on herself to be a little mother to her younger sister and brother, even while they were shunted off to various boarding schools (her father didn't want to take care of three children alone}. When my mother was a young woman, she was given legal charge of her mother, who at that point had been lobotomized. My mother oversaw her care at various institutions throughout the rest of her mother's life. I didn't even know that my grandmother was alive all those years. My mother had told me that she had died when my mother was a teenager. I know Mom wanted to shelter all of us from the knowledge that our grandmother had had this kind of life, and that she also did not like sharing any emotional pain that she was going through herself.

Mom was smitten with our father, who was a very handsome, charming man. He had an easy smile, a sharp wit, and a way with women, particularly my mother. Even through his many affairs, his heavy drinking, his anger and disdain for her, she loved him. It is a testament to my mother's love alone that they stayed married until my father died.

Because of all of this, however, Mom was also extremely difficult at times. She was inconsistent, argumentative, acerbic, and (often) not really too concerned with the truth. She was quick to anger, but it never lasted very long, however. Her optimistic, idealistic nature, which had helped her through the many tough times, always won out. Her bright blue eyes would soon be smiling and full of affection, especially for us kids.

Mom showed us the same kind of unstinting devotion that she did my father. When I was little, I clung to her, knowing that there was no other place in the world that I would feel the sureness and safety of being loved just for being myself. As I grew older, I realized that there was nothing I could ever do or say that would change that devotion. And so I took advantage of her, as, I suppose, many children take advantage.

As I grew to understand how destructive her relationship with my father was, I was angry at her for not leaving him, and scornfully I promised myself I would never put myself in her position -- I would never love unless I was absolutely sure that the love would be returned.

But that wasn't her way of living. Her knowing love was deep and far-reaching. It spanned the length of her days, and was as bottomless in its depth.

In some ways, Yankee is very different from Mom. She recognized, much earlier than I did, the difficulty of having a parent whose emotional whimsy was tought to predict, and does her best not to bring that part of her childhood experience into her own children's lives. And she has never made her children suffer, even indirectly, for any of the choices she's made in life. But she shares my mother's love of children, her empathy and her intelligence, and her values. She's a steadier, more honest version of Mom.

I often wonder if Mom had seen Yankee raise her children, loving them through so many trials, rejoicing in their successes, and uncomplainingly taking on more and more responsibility, if she would have recognized herself in her daughter. Maybe not. Truly selfless people don't spend that much time thinking about themselves.

But I do know she would have been proud.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Pass it on

I never gave birth to any children. Papa Go Blue and I discussed it, and we decided not to. He had raised three children into young adulthood, and didn't want to start over again with a baby. I was so unsure of myself, especially whether I could be any kind of good parent, so I was relieved that the decision was made for me.

I also never had a strong urge to have children of my own. There was nothing in particular that I wanted to pass down to another generation. Wackiness? Not something kids would really benefit from having. Anxiety? Good lord, no. I'm not tall and slender. I'm not brilliant. My (step)kids are brilliant, but they don't come from my gene pool. As far as teaching children anything goes, I feel so out of my element. How could I teach someone how to get along in the world, when I've had such a tough time myself? I don't feel capable of giving any advice on how to get through teenage years or young adulthood other than "do it differently than I did". Luckily, the kids were so well brought up that they didn't need to come to me for much advice, anyway. They all were so successful, in finding mates and in finding their careers. Their parents did an amazing job.

The only ability I have that would love to share is that of being able to draw, and the love of drawing. I fantasize about sitting with a child and showing him/her how the space around something defines it, how color and light can be used to add dimension, and how putting grids over things and breaking them down into shapes can yield a remarkable likeness.

My dear stepchildren have grown into amazing adults. They each have two children of their own. They each fill my heart with joy, and I love spending time with them. I'm always thrilled when they bring me drawings. I applaud their artwork, and we post it all over our door (or we did before the realtor yelled at us to take the kids' artwork down while we had the house on the market).I watch each child drawing or painting, and wonder if maybe one of them will want to become an artist.

LG, my younger grandson, seems to show a tremendous interest in art. He talks about color a lot, and is always happy to draw or paint if I bring out the art supplies. He loves rainbows. He's done some amazing thing so far--we have a refrigerator magnet with a painting of his on it.

I try to be careful to just watch and show appreciation for what he does, and not to direct him at all. The art teachers I've known taught me never to do that. And it's possible that this will just be one expression of his interests. Maybe he will grow up to be a musician, another one of his interests. Or a scientist, like his father. Or a writer, like his mother.

But if he does choose art for his life's work, his grandmother will love to share it with him.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Hell to pay

So Saddam Hussein has been executed.

So, on the "positive" side, in this long, long process:

1) The folks who run Halliburton are doing very nicely, thank you

2) W finally got even with the guy who threatened his father

On the negative side,

1) almost three thousand American soldiers have been killed, and all their families and friends are left to grieve

2) according to "a team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists, 655,000 more people have died in Iraq since the coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred" (Washington Post, October 11 2006).

And we have no way of knowing how much more carnage and destruction will be visited on that nation.

I'm so ashamed of us.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Odds and ends

Above are three old line line drawings I found in a bag of illustration samples I had done years ago. The bottom one is a picture of Walter Kronkite. I did that to show that I can do a likeness, and I had to choose someone that everyone would know. As you can see from these drawings, I have a thing for outlines. I love them. It's the reason I never took to sculpture -- no outlines.

These were obviously drawn from photos, and I would like to credit the people who took the photos, but they were done over 20 years ago and I have no idea what magazine I copied them from.

This was all I could find quickly, except for some portraits. The people who sat for them might not appreciate their likenesses showing up on a blog 20 years later, so for now I think I'll leave those off.

I'm also a little reluctant to post any of my cover designs, since I'm putting some pretty personal stuff on this blog. I'd be a little uncomfortable if the publishers I do work for knew this was me.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

I almost became a nun once.


The people who know me well just spit their coffees all over their computers.

I was in my mid-twenties, and was struggling. I was a college drop-out. I was a portrait artist (try making a living doing that). I went back to school for a bit to study graphic design, but was so unmotivated that I dropped out of my courses. I was dating really "inappropriate" guys, for lack of a better word. I felt so unconnected to the rest of the world. My job at an extremely sexist, almost all-male ad agency stank. My good friends knew I was in trouble emotionally, but couldn't figure out how to reach me.

I knew one of my mother's friend's daughters had become a nun, so I finally asked my mother if she could find out how I could talk to someone in the convent about joining. My mother was a very religious Catholic, so that wasn't such an odd request to her. She contacted the friend, and I got a phone number, called, and made a date to go to the convent to see about joining. Anything had to be better than the way my life was going. Don't even ask me what I thought I was going to do about sex, or lack thereof.

About a week before my interview date, I was wandering around my apartment and remembered the name of a psychiatrist I had seen for a few visits when I was in my early twenties. I called him, and he remembered me. I asked if I could have an appointment to see him, and he set one up for a couple of days later.

I had forgotten how unusual-looking he was. He was very short, and had trouble walking correctly, due to some childhood illness. He kind of waddled from side-to-side -- looking like a cross between Freud and Toulouse-Lautrec. He was very somber -- that was his style. We sat across his desk from each other, and I poured out my problems. When I got through talking, he said "Well, you're not crazy. You do obviously have problems dealing with various situations that arise in day-to-day living. I can help you with that."

With those words of hope in my head, I began my lifelong quest for "normalcy". I've seen a few different mental health professionals since then. My dear first shrink, who I credit with having given me a life, has since died. I've married a man who is a tremendous support to me. His children, now my children, have also contributed immeasurably to my happiness.

I hope I make them happy, too. Having watched my parents careen through life like two billiard balls, banging into each other and other people without much thought about what they were doing, I want to do things differently.

I want to be a support to the people I love. I want to be a good wife, stepmother, mother-in-law, grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend. I want the people I love to love me back, and to feel as though they can come to me for anything.

So anyway, I never kept that appointment with the convent. It was thirty years ago, and I look back with a sigh of relief, and with gratitude to the man who opened the door of hope for me.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

My name on this blog is Grandma Blue. I'm a book designer, living in the Northeast US. I have 3 wonderful children, who became mine in their teenage years when I married my dear husband, Papa Go Blue. The kids gave me the distinct privilege of becoming a mother-in-law to three more great kids (one of whom you probably know as Phantom Scribbler), and the overwhelming joy of becoming a grandmother to 6 great younger kids, ages 11 through 2.

I have three siblings, one of whom you probably know as well, who is Yankee, Transferred. She is my best friend. You can link to Phantom Scribbler's and Yankee, Transferred's blogs through here, and I strongly suggest you do! If you haven't been to Phantom's Wednesday Whining yet (it comes out every Wednesday-- duh!) you're really missing a treat.

My work is deeply satisfying. I work in my home office, designing books for various publishers, and I'm always excited when I have a new cover to work on. I'm not the designer I want to be yet, but I'm giving myself the rest of my life to get there. I have several good friends who are also book designers, and I draw a tremendous amount of inspiration from their work.

My family has been a great source of comfort, support and love over the years. My husband, and each one of my children, children-in-law, siblings, and grandchildren, have their spaces in my heart. All give me so much happiness.

So, that's me in a nutshell. I hope to post something interesting from time to time. Please stop by!