Learning to Look


Just about a year ago, I began drawing again.

Once upon a time I drew all the time.  I thought I would draw for my life at one point.  But, like so many adolescent fantasies, it surrendered to reality. 

Last year I joined a writing group at Hubbard Hall, a local community theatre and art center in Cambridge, NY and woke up to a different reality.  Initially intending to focus on writers in rural areas, the group has evolved into a search for authenticity in our work and our lives.  For me that meant making the choice to follow more earnestly my lifelong dream of being a writer and, simultaneously, to revive a dream that made art a part of my life again.  It’s been life changing in many ways, some of which I’m still discovering.

Thanks to my primary inspiration – my family – I’ve found my own drawing groove over the last year.  Perspective and landscapes were never my strong suits, but when the small towns are covered with snow or the hills are drenched in green, Vermont kickstarts my creativity, and I get more adventurous.  Learning to draw them has taught me the need to truly see them, but it’s also taught me to look.  

Trying to capture the snow-covered mountains meant studying them first thing in the morning when the powder dusted the evergreens, but it also forced me to consider the naked maple trees, thrown into relief against a dusky pink winter sky when the wind had swept their limbs clean.  I got comfortable scribbling craggy branches in my sketchbook and began seeking out the silhouettes during the often fiery sunsets.  I even learned to find beauty in the overcast grey that colors most of our winters.  Now, as spring coaxes tiny green buds from tree branches and the longer days turn thatch-colored fields into green and yellow meadows, I’m trying out a new set of skills with my pencils.  And I’m learning, yet again, not just to see the details in the everyday inspirations.  I’m also learning to find inspiration in everyday places and moments.


Heroes Begin at Home

A long fuse

When our twelve-year-old, Thing1, was about four, he began begging us for a baby brother.  He didn’t want more playdates with other boys, and he definitely didn’t want a baby sister.  Fortunately, we were able to deliver on his request two year later, and, even though we couldn’t take credit for Thing2’s gender, Thing1 was perfectly happy to go along with our contention that Thing2 was the big present that Christmas.

Thing1 took his big-brother responsibilities very seriously.  He read to Thing1and held his hand on the jungle gyms.  He made sure that I didn’t pick any outfits or Halloween costumes that violated the boy code of ‘not-too-cute’.  It didn’t take Thing2 long to decide that his older brother was a hero.  Six years later, Thing1 is learning that no good deed goes unpunished.

The two of them share the same wants these days, and the perfect harmony that characterized their early years together goes off key with increasing frequency.  They still share a bunk room, and, for a time, I thought the close proximity was the primary cause of their constantly overlapping material desires.  But the other night, as the Big Guy and I orchestrated the circus that is homework hour at our house, it became apparent that it does’t always take the opposing forces that lead to conflict don’t have to be equal in size or determination.

The increased expectations and volume of homework this year drove Thing1 to study at the desk we put in his room two years ago.  Thing2, however, still needs more supervision if we want his 20 minutes of homework done before eight o’clock at night, and we’ve designated the kitchen table as his study space.  Anything can draw our happily distractible six-year-old away from his studies, and, if we don’t keep a close eye on him, we know we’ll find him in the bunk room pestering his older brother.

Last week I had a chance to watch this ballet once more.  This time, however, a different angle made it seem like a completely new production.  Thing2 had just been restored to his chair after bouncing around the house, showing us his afternoon artwork.  Thing1 had the door to their room closed.  Hoping a little music would help Thing2 concentrate, I hit play on If I Fell, one of his favorite Beatles’ songs.

My plan backfired immediately.  Thing2 began singing, revealing that he wanted to sing Beatles at the school talent show.  The love song ended, but instead of bending his head to his work, Thing2 hopped off the chair and ran to the bunkroom, calling to his brother through the door to let him know about the talent show plans.

“Leave me alone,” Thing1 yelled through the door.  “I’m trying to work!”  I ordered Thing2 back to his seat and opened the door to let Thing1 know yelling at his brother should be reserved for actual crimes.  He came out to defend his reaction and, after we discussed the right tone to use with his parents, Thing1 trudged back to his desk.  Thing2, watched the exchange and hopped up again as soon as his brother began his retreat.  It was like watching a match chasing a long fuse.

I got up to pull my first-grader back to his homework before a fight broke out, but when I got to the door of the bunk room, Thing2 was hanging on the back of his brother’s chair, arms wrapped tightly around Thing1’s neck, consoling him while revealing his talent show plans.  Thing1, still miffed, was trying to write while ignoring the stranglehold, but then I saw him pat his baby brother’s hand.  At that moment I knew he also realized that this wasn’t pestering.  It was worship.  Sometimes it hurts, but even when he’s trying to find breathing space, Thing1 seems to understand that being someone’s hero is not just a responsibility; it’s a gift.