Yearning for Wonderland

There is such a place as fairyland - but only children can find the way to it...until they have grown so old that they forget the way. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again...The world calls them singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland. ~ L.M Montgomery

In Memoriam: Ethel Louise Russell

Sometimes bad news arrives without a hint of warning, during a comfortably pedestrian evening, after a glut of hash brown casserole and bacon. A terrible thought strikes you. And then, before you know it, you’ve confirmed it and everything falls apart.

I’d been worried about my friend Louise. She was back in Louisville, living on her own, getting more fragile. I’d said goodbye to her in June, took her out for lunch and to help her run errands, told her that Austin was the best place for me right now. She hugged me tight, twice, and let me go with tears in her eyes. If I am honest with myself, I knew then that I might not see her again. She was having more health problems, slowing down, but she had such an indefatigable spirit that I couldn’t even conceive of her not being in this world. Fast forward to December. I called her and got no answer, voicemail was full. I was mildly worried, but tried again on New Year’s. Same full voicemail message. It’s not uncommon for people to be absent-minded about their voicemail, but I was getting more nervous. I tried her cell phone. The number had been assigned to someone else. So I tried emailing her, convincing myself that people cancel their cell phone numbers for a variety of reasons. And then, and then.

I did what I probably should have done in the first place, exactly what I was afraid to do. I googled ‘Louise Russell Louisville’. It even popped up ‘Louise Russell obituary’ as one of the helpfully provided Google search terms. And even /then/, I told myself that it wasn’t that uncommon of a name. But then I came to this page and I knew.

She’d died November 6th. I’d missed her funeral, her memorial. I didn’t get to send her flowers. No one told me because almost no one knew how much I loved this woman.

This is how a heart breaks.

LCJ050018-1_20151107I was barely able to function, couldn’t even see, paid the check in a haze, stumbled out to the parking lot. Luckily, Brian was with me and could drive me home.

To explain all this, I’d have to go back eleven years, to 2004. I was a newly minted manager at J. Jill’s at the Mall St. Matthews in Louisville. I was a little nervous – it was my first retail management job – and most of the ladies I was managing had a decade on me, if not more. There was one employee, though, that I especially wanted to know better. She had sass, personality…I would’ve called her a spunky old lady if it weren’t patently disrespectful. She was 67, she went by Louise and NOT Ethel, and she could run rings around all of us. The older ladies loved her – hell, I’m pretty sure most of our customers preferred her. She just had the touch. She was always dressed beautifully, with her hair and makeup done.

One night, we were closing together, and chatting as we straightened the tables. We were already friends, but I didn’t know how that evening would change my life. She’d mentioned that she’d worked at Bacon’s Department store, when it was still opened. My head snapped up and I grinned.

“Oh wow, my grandma was a manager there for a long time. Did you know Josephine Paris?”

I will never forget her voice and her glee, “Jo? Jo PARIS?”

Not only had she known her, she’d been supervised by her, had loved her. She had such stories of the two of them and their hijinks, left me dazzled with visions of a younger, more mischievous grandma than I’d ever known. Such stories, it was like my beloved lost grandmother blazed back into life at that exact moment, fueled by the strength of her memories.

And so that was that. We were fast friends before we’d even cashed out for the night. We stayed in touch even after I left the store, moved to Florida. I was in Florida for seven years, but I still called her from time to time. Every time we spoke it was if we’d never stopped. She was a touchstone for Louisville, for my grandma, for a lot that was now lost to me.

When I came back, I got to see her again and oh was it wonderful. She came to my wedding. I have a wonderful, priceless picture of the two of us there that I will have to dig out. Time had taken some toll, but she still kept a lot of what made her Louise. She was in a lot of chronic pain, had several surgeries. After my divorce, one of the first things I did was go see her again. And again. It was never anything fancy. One day we went to Paul’s Fruit Market and picked up a sandwich. I drove her to get her medicine from the pharmacy and one other errand. She kept thanking me, as if it weren’t a gift to me to see her.

Just before I moved to Texas, I saw her one last time. I’m haunted by that visit. She seemed sad throughout, but I thought it was just because I was leaving. I hugged her twice, took her cell phone number, told her to PLEASE put me on a list of people to call if anything happened. I was worried she’d end up in the hospital and I wouldn’t know about it. I didn’t know any of her family and was going to be half a country away. As always, I told her I loved her and she started crying. I don’t know if she knew then I wouldn’t see her again or if it was just an emotional moment.

It’s easy to blame myself, scold myself about calling her more often. But she knew I loved her. I told her every time we spoke. She knew that she was one of the stars in my sky, my connection to my grandmother gone, a little piece of my soul. Her kindness and love and friendship meant the world. And I will miss her so very, very much. I know I have to let her go, but it’s so hard. As long as I knew she was out there, I knew there was a soul who loved me the way my grandma did.

Goodbye, Louise. There’s at least one person in this world who will never forget you.
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Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there; I did not die.
– Mary E. Frye, 1932

A Tribute to My Muse

Tonight, I think of my Muse.

When I first saw her in the gallery, I was startled; she was so…throat-catchingly beautiful. I had seen photographs, but nothing had prepared me for the sight. It was like being struck. I was walking and I had to stop. I felt a tear slip down my cheek. She was me and yet not me. She was the me I wanted to be – serene, graceful, and entirely still…poised for the next moment.

I told myself for weeks that I couldn’t have her and grew more and more miserable as she continued to sell, moved to grace the homes and lives of others. So few and slipping away. I looked at the massive price on her and thought it a bargain, knew I would pay twice that (I, who could not afford once that).

Still, I didn’t allow myself even to hope. Every time I passed her in the gallery, I stroked a cool bronze cheek, traced the fine grooves of her hair. It became a running joke how I would hug her as I walked by. It was irresistible; I couldn’t help it. I was in love. I was Pygmalion, with a Galatea that did not have to become real to be loved, but who would very shortly not even be within sight.

And then only two weeks later, in Paris of all places (because all beautiful and solemn events happen in Paris), I am walking down the Boulevard de Picpus with my father on a sunny late June morning. We walk aimlessly, stroll past the boulangerie, the patisserie, fish and croissants and fruit so lush and gorgeous that you want to stop and take a picture of it. I spoke effusively of my Muse, for I already thought of her as “my” sculpture…for twenty minutes. When I finally paused to take a breath, my father turned to me and said, “Well, then I think you should get it.”

Words are words, but my father is good for his word. He did not buy it for me, nor would I have wanted him to do so. Instead, he helped me get the financing, allowed me to acquire her for my own. My parents have always encouraged me to believe in the impossible, to find ways to accomplish that which I never would think I could do.

Already, she inspires me. I think of her and become radiant.

Hurry, Muse.

 
Theatre
Frederick Hart
Bronze

The purpose of my art is to seek beauty and truth, and to explore and glorify the human being and the universe.
Frederick Hart
[Repost from 6/29/06 -ed]

Book Review:(S)mythology by Jeremy Tarr

Article first published as Book Review: (S)mythology by Jeremy Tarr, Illustrated by Katy Smail on Blogcritics.

(S)mythology bills itself as a contemporary fairy tale and that it is: a very whimsical, very adult fairy tale. This dark, yet touching tale stars Sophie, a dreamer and innocent naïf who searches for her ideal love. (S)mythology features a quirky cast of characters who both help and hinder Sophie in her classic Hero’s Quest, including Poseidon, a Guru, mermaids and all manner of fish and fowl, both fair and foul.

Many of the ideals of love are up-ended here. Sophie looks for love in the archetypal, bump-into-a-stranger on the street style and that is exactly how she meets Smyth, in a fateful rickshaw accident. They fall in love and wish to live happily ever after, except…Sophie is cursed. Anyone who loves her and looks upon her is turned to stone. She craves love and stability and a family, but she ends up with a collection of statues instead.

Like Orpheus, she goes into the Underworld to rescue Smyth. She fools Death once, but Death can only be fooled once. Without ruining anything I will tell you that people die and bad things happen to good people, as they do in real life (and in fairy tales). There are some sequences that are squeamish and not for the faint-of-heart, but the redemption of the story is worth enduring the dark bits.

One common theme in the book is eyes, and sight or seeing/not-seeing. Often, the blind characters see far more clearly than the seeing ones do. Sophie allows her ideals of love to get in the way of seeing the true love she actually possesses. But all ends up as it should, with lessons learned and an ending that is both delicate and sweet, like the last bit of summer’s ice cream melting away.

The website (http://www.smythology.co.uk/) is quite clever and deserves a visit on its own merits. You can read an excerpt from the book and visit the different locations (including Londontown and the Underworld).

The stylized and whimsical artwork by Katy Smail deserves its own special mention. This is a new breed of illustrated book, a novel with lots of pictures (64 illustrations in total). The illustrations capture the ups and downs of Sophie’s quest and blend with the story perfectly; it is a magnificent synergy of art and writing, one in which the one almost could not exist without the other.

I highly recommend (S)mythology for those who love the work of Tim Burton and Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and those with fairy tale sensibilities, those who know that when life intervenes to prevent the ideal, it sometimes offers a happy ending anyway.

Published by The Big Head.
http://www.smythology.co.uk/

Music Review: Handmade by Hindi Zahra

Article first published as Music Review: Hindi Zahra – Handmade on Blogcritics.

Most people would say four or five focused listens would probably be sufficient to write an album’s review. As far as Hindi Zahra’s Handmade (Naïve Records), I passed that threshold weeks ago. I can’t stop listening to it. I keep it in my car; no matter where I go, I find a song which speaks to my mood. To date this is easily my favorite album this year, at once sophisticated, exotic and evocative.

Though she would likely be categorized under “World Music,” Zahra fuses musical cultures freely to create her own sounds. A Berber girl born in Morocco, she takes her own musical heritage and seamlessly integrates it with blues, jazz and gypsy, among countless other influences.

As a breakthrough album, Handmade is nothing short of astonishing. Zahra wrote the songs, played instruments, sang and self-produced with a restrained hand. Each track offers slightly different tones and shades, like a rainbow scarf slipping through your hands.

“Beautiful Tango” makes you want to dance barefoot, a swirl of silk tied on, arms jangling with a hundred bracelets — rather like Hindi Zahra: “Come speak the secret words in Spanish / Where the night turns out the light of day for us to show some courage,” she croons, against a backdrop of hand-claps and hand drums.

You should listen to “Fascination” in the car with the window down, wrist swimming against the wind. Listening to her pronunciations is a pleasure; she says “sou-ven-ir,” reminding you of the word’s French origin. “Set Me Free” feels like a modern update of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”: “Come on and break those chains / and leave me alone baby / ‘Cause you don’t know how to give me good love / And mine is never enough.”

“Imik Si Mik” has a faint Paris Combo flavor and is so upbeat that you can’t help but bounce along, despite the faint melancholy of its lyrics. With its chill and dreamy vibe, “Kiss & Thrills” is mesmerizing. I don’t so much as listen to this song as I do feel it, and it’s jolting when it ends.

At first I thought the live set offered at the end of Handmade might strike me as a little redundant, as several of its songs are repeated. I was completely wrong. In this unplugged context she reinvents the studio versions, stripping out the production to offer more old-school interpretations.

Zahra quite possibly is the love child of Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker, alternatively warm and then cool, her voice ululating with suppleness. If Casablanca was remade (as problematic as that would be), I’d instantly want her cast as a torch singer in Sam’s Place. I want to hear her cover all the War-era tunes, starting with “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen.” Another standout is “Don’t Forget,” rendered in the style of Doris Day or Billie Holiday.

I spend a lot of time listening to music from past eras, and so I was slow to realize the uniqueness of the sound this young musician creates. In comparison with much of today’s frenetic, auto-tuned beats, Hindi Zahra’s music feels relievingly classic, like dipping into a pool of fresh, cool water.

Handmade was heralded as one of the most anticipated albums of the fall by New York Magazine. Do yourself a big favor and purchase this album. Share it with your friends; they’ll think you’ve been clairvoyant once Zahra achieves the massive commercial success she deserves.

Handmade will be available on Amazon.com as a digital download on September 26. Visit Hindi Zahra’s official website and YouTube channel for more information.

The Serendipity of Parent Matching

I sat in the molded red plastic chair in the hallway, staring at my bare feet. I tried wiggling one big toe and then the other. They wiggled appropriately, but I still sort of wished for a magazine or something, if I were able to read.

“NEXT!” called out the voice, booming down the empty corridor. I looked to my left and my right and saw no one, so I hopped down and toddled into the office. It was full of bookshelves filled with musty books. The dust motes caught the sunlight and sparkled, a legion of fireflies.

“Name?” came the voice again. I tried to peer over the edge of the desk to see the voice. All I could see was a podge of thinning brown hair, combed over neatly to cover a burgeoning bald spot.

“Um, don’t have one yet,” said I, tremulously.

“I know that,” was the impatient reply, “What do you wish to be called?”

“How about Brunhilde?”

“Surely you’re joking,” the bald spot bobbed and weaved as he turned another page of the massive book in front of him,”Best to choose a nice inoffensive name, like Sarah or Ellen. That will give you a lot more choices.”

“I think they should pick my name,” I offered, doing my best to keep the sulky out of my voice. “I mean, I hope I can find a pair with good taste.”

“What else?” His voice was disinterested, rather the aural equivalent of picking one’s nose and flicking it at the wall.

“Well, I’d like it if they were smart people. The kind that you could talk to about Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln and…um, paradigms.”

“Don’t pretend you know what any of those things are yet. What else?”

I crawled up into the arm chair across from the desk, but it was still a low squishy well of leather. I did manage to see the voice’s eyebrows, though; they were like ungroomed caterpillars and rather expressive.

“They should be funny. Not take each other too seriously. Maybe they could sing while they vacuum. I’d like it if they could laugh at themselves and at me too. Maybe the dad could teach me how to make funny faces in the mirror and how to dance like he’s starring in a Cecil B. DeMille musical. Maybe the mom could show me how to mummify a Barbie Doll and how to direct a room full of unruly people into doing what you need them to do.” I piped up, in a voice quite unlike my own, “It’s called ACT-ING!”

The caterpillars crawled across the furrows of his brow to a quizzical position, “This seems like a fairly specific request,” he said, rather suspiciously, “You haven’t been peeping in The Book, have you?”

“No sir,” I said, meek, hands folded in my lap in the primmest fashion.

He sighed and flipped a few more pages, the fuzzy wiggles of his brow descending towards the type. “There is one possibility here,” he said dubiously, “There’s a couple here that fulfills your requirements.”

“Really?” I perked up instantly, “Will they take me on trips to museums and nature trails and force-screen awful science fiction movies and black and white classics? Will they love me and help me, even when it’s questionable that I deserve either? Will they put me to sleep with Booshky Cream and sing You are My Sunshine and Side by Side and The Monkey Song? Will they make me cry when they sing On Top of Spaghetti with a fatal ending? Will they encourage me to write and sing and dance and do all manner of things which are not profitable in the world?”

The book slammed shut indignantly, “You, miss, have been reading The Book! How would you possibly know all that?”

I gave the only answer I could: “Because it’s my destiny.”

Finally, the voice and the bald spot and the eyebrows worked in conjunction and almost looked and sounded as though they were smiling, “Well. Well. Door 11C.”

“Thank you!” I chirped and wandered down the empty hall till I came to 11C. I opened the door and walked into the great white light and towards the parents I was meant to be with.

—–

This post is dedicated to my parents, on their anniversary. I’m not certain how I ended up with wonderful them, but this seems as feasible an explanation as any.

Fate, I owe you one.

by Artist 3001