Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What a Year

What a year it's been so far.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Greek-ish Chorus

I mentioned a couple of days ago on Facebook that my life needs a Greek Chorus. I think I was off the mark a little bit. I think that what I really need is to get my Greek Chorus into line. At the moment, they are more like what we see in the musicals Evita and Mamma Mia. Rather than a chorus talking in unison, I have a disparate group of voices chatting higgledy-piggledy. They follow me through my days, adding color and commentary to my life. When I'm feeling down they are there to echo my emotions, a sort of musical call and response. When I'm happy, we're dancing around the room, bowing to each other and lifting our glasses. If I can't sleep, a heap of them are sitting atop bed, discussing formulas for spreadsheets.

If I'm dizzy from my meds I have a very laid back guy saying, "Dude". Sometimes I'll be doing something – something productive, let's say – and I start to get dizzy. If I'm at home I generally take a nap, but if I'm out and about there's not nap to be had. I sit still a moment and think, what was it I was doing? Then we're all in the car together, happily singing along, ABBA blaring from the speakers, driving to Jerry's Artarama to get art supplies. Or, I'll be enjoying a nice cup of coffee and think about a beautiful tree outside the window. I'll consider that it is older than the building I'm sitting in, and suddenly there's all this chatter about what the neighborhood was like 50 years ago when it was all trees and fields, and how did they select this one tree to stay and lean on the railing of the porch, when they razed all of the others to make the shopping center. Sitting next to me, head-to-head, is a handsome Hispanic man and we're looking at each other knowingly, singing about the tree and how good the drawing is going to turn out. Then I take out the art supplies that I keep with me and begin drawing. Others chime in about the depth, and the need for shade in this one area and how this area is flat and they sing (in chorus) when I begin to make it better. And then the railing coming toward the viewer and taking a sharp turn, running parallel with the window I'm looking out of. Just kind of sketched in there, not detailed like the ♪ BEAUTIFUL TREE that is just outside my window! ♫♪♪

And the beautiful drawing that I'm adding to my journal, and I'm going to be able to retire from work and write and draw and a ♫ NEW EARNIE – A Rather Earnest Painter ♪ ♫ ♪ is coming into his own in a coffee shop in this wicked little town of Austin, TX.

Not quite the award-winning piece of art that my Greek-ish Chorus would have me believe, but they lost interest after about 20 minutes.

Other times they mock me. Why am I still working at this job where everybody is so mean? (In reality, the people I work with are delightful.) Why am I still sitting in front of a company computer marking time until I die? What happened to those wild dreams, when we were soaring and laughing and the Rather Earnest Painter was going to have it all? So, what happens now? Don't ask... any more. You made your bed, now lie in it. You have three novels started, you have writing skills that you've put into a drawer. At work I sit at my desk while, dancing around me, men and women sing about what I've done with my life, and more to the point what I haven't. Where is the success that would let me own a home in two towns, a place to get away and a place to come home to? Or, did I forget to try?

All in all I have to say that I like this group of singers, this Greek-ish Chorus, better than the one I used to have... or the way they used to dress? Does one lose the voices in one's head, only to be replaced by new voices? Or, do the voices age as we do? Anyway, I used to have voices taunting me about futility and ending my life. That group wasn't quite as much fun to be around. Even then I used to dream at night about being in a musical – a happy, upbeat musical that was my life and life was good. In the darkest times my chorus was there, somewhere, just out of sight, encouraging me, singing to me. I'd lose track of them and then they'd come to me in my dreams. Now, having moved beyond that other shady crew, I have with me a lovely, if somewhat bewildering, Greek-ish Chorus.

And, we're gonna make it after all...

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Emerging Badgers

I have a lovely smart phone holder made by my friend, the ceramic artist Jason Hooper. I'm thinking that mine is the only one with two badgers descending from the running glaze. Do you see?

If you're interested in seeing more of Jason's work, you can do so here:

e A r n i e

Friday, March 25, 2016

Broken to Beautiful

I see us becoming such a disposable society. It's easy to get sucked into the mindset; I mean, new things rock! Gifts! I love new things. I had a friend from Brazil who wanted new Christmas decorations every year. I've always thought that memories of things that you've had for years were nice; Christmas is all about nostalgia, after all. But, he wanted brand everything new every year. Trees, lights, d├ęcor... Plastic is fine; we won't be keeping it long, anyway. A different theme every season. We have starter homes, starter marriages, first car, this year's car, this year's fashion...

At the same time I see shabby chic everywhere. What can't you make out of recycled pallets? The odd thing is seeing the shabby chic things in trendy stores. Intentionally shabby? I believe they used the word 'Distressed' for it. It's crafty without having to take the time.

But, I digress. I like the idea of reusing things. Things that are broken have a special appeal to me. I've started thinking about it and it seems that 'Broken to Beautiful' has always been my way. Broken to Beautiful means not perfect. It doesn't mean 'make the best of something'; it means 'use it on purpose'. It means, Take something broken and make it into something nice. As the song from Hedwig and the Angry Inch says, "You take the pieces off the ground, and show this wicked town something beautiful and new." There are not that many new things here where I live. It's a fabulously old home with two acres of grass that is trying to take over the world, and my head spins thinking about trying to keep up with it all. Fortunately, Nameless has been here for 25 years, so he's good at it – I get to help. I'm learning to mow grass and to trim shrubs, and I'm learning that somebody my age really needs to be careful when mowing grass and trimming shrubs. (Tennis elbow is real and it doesn't go away easily.)

A small set of wooden steps rotted and Nameless moved it to the side of the building that they led into. He moved a set of cement steps into its place, and the other ones sat on the side, waiting to be demo'd and tossed out. I had today off, and I thought it would be nice to have flowers on it. So, I turned it around and propped up the bottom step. I suppose we might go back and secure it, but for the moment I'm pleased with the way it looks. I bought some new (new?) plants and flowers for it, moved a rosemary plant that has been struggling there and put it all together. I didn't buy any new pots yet; I reused some that we already had. I'm going to buy a couple, just because we don't have any small ones and I want some that size for the second step.

I have very little experience with flowers, so who knows if they will like it in this location or how long they'll live? But, for the moment I'm pleased with it. (Hopefully, the rosemary will grow enough to hide the electrical outlet.)

e A r n i e

Friday, March 18, 2016


So, I work. Like most Americans. "They" have been encouraging us, lately, to be creative. (I'm assuming that this ties in with coming up with creative solutions to problems.) However, I was off the day they delivered the tiny bins of playdough and everybody got to make a creation and post pictures of them on our company chat. But, I can do some pretty creative things with spreadsheets. I do things that God never intended, actually. I try to keep in mind the ideals of design. It needs to be easy to read, intuitive and I try to keep my formulas such that a person coming in after me would be able to follow what I was doing and carry on in my absence. This has as much to do with documentation as it does with designing spreadsheets, and I also try to make my documentation easy to follow and pleasing to the eye.

Another person who works in my office is a fidgety sort of person. She is always playing with a pen, knocking over a cup of coffee, running face-first into a wall or something to keep us amused. This afternoon she was playing with her Rubik's Cube – a miniature one that was left on all of our desks close to the time that the playdough was delivered – while she was talking with two other people, one of whom works in our department, the other works close-by. The one who works in our department didn't blink an eye as the cube fell apart in our coworker's hand. It was only a matter of time, really. The person from the nearby department was a little taken aback, claiming that he'd never seen one fall apart. (I mean, I've never seen it, either. That doesn't mean I was surprised to see it happen to her.)

Just this morning on the way to work I was listening to the soundtrack to Hedwig and the Angry Inch. One of my favorite lines from that musical – one that has inspired me since I first saw the movie – is:
That, when everything starts breaking down
You take the pieces off the ground
And show this wicked town
Something beautiful and new*
So, that's what I did. I took the pieces off the ground (out of her hand, actually. They hadn't hit the ground yet.) and made an art installation. I finally got the opportunity to express my creativity in a purely aesthetic way at work. I didn't post a picture of it on our chat, mostly because that was so, like, three weeks ago. But, I'll post pictures here. For you, Gentle Reader. I call it Unrest, a collaboration.

Thank you for taking the time to read.

*Stephen Trask


e A r n i e, the Rather Earnest Painter

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Clarice's Original Mother

In 1988 Thomas Harris published a novel titled The Silence of the Lambs, which was a sequel to his earlier Red Dragon. In 1991 Silence was made into a movie and was a major success, both in the box office and critical acclaim. With Anthony Hopkins and Jody Foster one would expect that – particularly with Hopkins.

In 2003 a struggling artist named Richella was working in her studio. She rented a large warehouse space – 5,000 square feet or so. She had a cat named Fitzgerald with whom she traveled across the country to art festivals. Fitzgerald was a very large orange tabby, and he was very comfortable on the road. He kept her company while she worked all hours of the night on her pottery, her miniature collectibles fired with a Raku technique.

Richella was a very good friend of mine and I feel that she was troubled sometimes. She told us that she needed the amount of space she had in order to be able to work, due to claustrophobia. So, she worked alone in her studio surrounded by her pretty things and in the company of her cat who enjoyed nothing more than being her entire world.

At some point, though, another tabby peeked in the garage door of the studio. She gave the new cat some food and put it back outside. But, the cat came back, as cats are wont to. She took the cat in to get it fixed and if you've noticed a lack of gender-specific pronouns in this paragraph there's a reason for it. She couldn't tell if it was a boy or a girl. She thought girl, so she named her Buttercup. The vet told her it was a boy, so the name was changed to Butternut. When the vet discovered that the cat was pregnant, he used deductive reasoning to establish that she was, indeed, a she. Thus, the name Butterbean was given and finalized.

This caused a bit of an upset in Fitzgerald's life. He only had room in his heart for one woman and that woman was Richella. He could see no reason for the presence of this other cat in their life, regardless of what gender she was before she was neutered. Butterbean was street savvy and could kick any cat's ass that got in her way, so there was a bit of tension as the two got to know each other. (In all honestly, Fitzgerald never got over the betrayal.) But, the ball was rolling and there is no stopping the course of fate.

I think that it can be said without too much argument that Richella was in an unlucky phase in her life with regards to romance. She had a boyfriend at one point around this time. He wasn't much to write home about, so I tried not to pay attention. But, any person has a space in their heart for another human being and sometimes we let somebody into that space whether or not they are truly worth it. It's difficult to say what would have been appropriate for Richella. She loved the movie The Silence of the Lambs and all of the prequels/sequels. She also read all of the books. One might not think too much about that, except that she found it to be the most remarkable love story she had ever seen. It touched her in a place that had never been touched before. For those who haven't heard of it, the two main characters in SOTL are Hannibal and Clarice. Hannibal is a brilliant psychiatrist, and he also happens to be a cannibalistic murderer. Clarice works for the FBI and is sent to enlist Hannibal's assistance in stopping another serial killer. Thus begins their strange relationship.

So, when yet a third cat showed up to Richella's studio and it was clear that she wasn't going to go away, this new black cat was named in honor of Richella's favorite protagonist, Clarice. Clarice, the cat, was a timid little thing at the time, and Butterbean was quite the fighter. Butterbean was generally locked in Richella's bedroom, but occasionally the door was left a crack open and Clarice would sneak in to see what was in there (because what cat can leave a closed door alone?) She had her little black butt handed to her on more than one occasion that way.

There has always been something a little different about Clarice. Some cats are nervy or skittish, and that's natural. Clarice, though, has always wanted attention; she was just always a little put off by being touched – even when she requested it. She lived her life among other cats a bit like that. She wasn't certain that she wanted to be there, but there didn't seem to be anywhere else to be, so she abided. Asserting herself had only caused physical harm, so she meekly asked for attention, even though she didn't particularly like it. She spent a great deal of time lying quietly, trying to blend into the background until her need for affection overcame her distaste for it.

Years later, she has come into her own, living in our home now. (This is the same Clarice that I recently wrote about – our cat who has diabetes now.) She sits on her corner of the kitchen table and proudly announces that she is in need of attention. It is my job to pick her up (yes, she allows me to pick her up now!) and pet her and coo to her and tell her what a beautiful kitty she is. I have to pet the back of her head, rub her whiskers and this must go on for at least five minutes. She uses her front paws on my arm to perch up and receive her due. She closes her eyes and imagines a life without so much heartache; lets herself forget how far she's come and just live in the moment with me.

And, then it's time to put her down and we both go about our business.

A sketch of Richella demonstrating her art

Saturday, February 13, 2016


Last week my partner, Barry, called me as I was getting ready to go to work, asking me if I could drop off one of our cats at the veterinarian’s office so they could see her that day. I dropped her off on my way to work, then later they called Barry and said that the doctor would like to speak to him that evening if he could come by. That is never a good sign. I've had my share of "the doctor needs to see you urgently to discuss the results" conversations. It generally means that what you were afraid of is true and possibly more. Sometimes you are worried about several possibilities, so upon hearing that request you get to spend the rest of your working day wondering which one of your worst fears is about to become reality.

So that evening Barry and I report to the vet's office promptly at 5:30, braced for what might be to come. Barry had noticed that the cat, Clarice, had been drinking more than usual and eating more. He also noticed that she was going to the cat box more often, but that she wasn't always able to urinate. Was it renal failure? Just a UTI? (Some cats get these so often that the antibiotics become like candy.) Was it diabetes? Last year we lost a dog to congestive heart failure. We have become well versed at caring for geriatric animal patients. (Which is good, because most of our cats are about the same age and they're all becoming geriatric at the same time.)

We were taken to a room and told to wait for the doctor. I'm certain that there were very good, logistic reasons for all of this, but it did seem the slightest bit melodramatic. Not that they weren't friendly. The people at our local vet's office are all very lovely people and they took such good care of our dog while he went through his ordeal. Some of them cried as much as we did at the end of his life. So, here we were again in the same exam room waiting for the veterinarian that Barry has been seeing since before he met me 15 years ago.

She came in as friendly as ever. She told us that Clarice has diabetes. Barry breathed a sigh of relief. He has had a diabetic cat before, and he's also had cats who have gone through renal failure. The former is manageable; the latter is more or less a death sentence. The doctor explained how the pancreas and insulin work in cats, showed us the results (blood glucose of 633!) and explained what would be needed if we wanted to go forward with treatment. Of course we did, so she brought Clarice in and had a kit of needles with a disposal canister with her. She taught us how to keep and handle the insulin, how to draw up the proper amount and how to give the injection. She let us practice on Clarice with saline, which Clarice was not fond of. Clarice is mostly black, with the common white patch on her chest (though it's not a heart-shaped heart like The Bear.) She grumbled threats under her breath as we practiced with the saline and then we put her on the floor and all we saw was her tail disappearing as she escaped into the carrying case. She was having no more of this nonsense and please take her home immediately. Thank you, and good day.

So, that was all for the moment. We set up a follow-up appointment, took our insulin and needles and came back to this old house that has seen more cats than any of us will ever know. We are just characters in the story of a house in a small town in Central Texas. Now we have a new commitment – insulin injections twice daily at twelve hour intervals. At the vet's office Clarice told us in no uncertain terms that this was not going to be acceptable. But, when she is faced with a bowl full of her favorite moist food I have found that she doesn't even notice when I pick the skin up between her front shoulder blades, make a tent and poke a needle at a 45 degree angle and inject 1 CC of insulin while she noisily eats on food that she was not previously allowed. Now she comes to us and let's us know that it's time. It only took her one day to learn that when we go to the refrigerator and take out that little bottle, when we arrange the needle on the counter, all of this means that she's getting Fancy Feast moist cat food, which as it turns out has few carbohydrates than most others. (Our vet told us this.) Rather than grumbling growls and threats, she makes happy kitty sounds and takes very little notice of what I'm doing with the skin on her back.

And she is, after all, such a sweet cat.

e A r n i e