gall and gumption

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Mysterious West

This sticker is actually from the West, not from China. Which strictly speaking is a violation of the rules for this particular feature -- oh! and so early too. This is an American-made product, from "Home Dawgs" in California. But I got it from a machine in a dollar store in Gaithersburg which surely counts for something. Actually my cousin's daughter got it for me, because the first time I tried I got a pit bull. My cousin's daughter is 10 and said she always has good luck with these machines. So she tried and got the one I wanted.

But there is more to it even than that. I have been trying to get a copy of this sticker for a year. How? You ask. Well, the taco place next to the newspaper office where I used to work in Sonoma County had one of these machines. But the one section that didn't work was the one with this sticker, or at least one very like it, featuring a lovable gangster chihuahua. I kept going back, it stayed broken, no one could explain why it was never fixed, I checked out the machines if there happened to be any in the Mexican groceries I went to, none of them had the Chihuahua, though there was plenty of other strange stuff.

He is not an anatomically correct Chihuahua. I'm not sure that's a load-bearing back leg you can see there.

But that's not necessarily bad. Caroline and I have been discussing this guy. I met a woman at the Sunday morning life drawing who insisted that I should look at his site. "He paints like Michelangelo," she said. Caroline summed it up rather succinctly in an email with the phrase "pointless accuracy."

When I popped back to this site to check the URL what it made me think of was not Michelangelo but Rubens. I mean, if you could imagine Rubens without any subject matter. And maybe if I hadn't looked at this other guy I wouldn't have been curious to know why the thought "Rubens without subject matter" occurred to me, and I wouldn't have looked at an image of the Descent From the Cross and realized how huge Rubens's subject matter is.

Caroline asks:

What did you say to the lady who told you about the Michelangelo guy?
Can you be truthful to people like that? I'm always wondering if I go
too far when I open up around people. I think I have this look of
innocence or benevolence-- something benign-- and then these horrible
jokes come out of my mouth and I make people uncomfortable.. That
hasn't quite happened yet.

I have developed a certain ability for kicking a small-talky conversation that is entirely without substance back and forth with total strangers. You do meet people who find it simply inconceivable that you could disagree with their views, or hold entirely different views based on a whole universe of other basic assumptions, I mean epistemological assumptions. The odd thing is that when I think of the people I have known who have been most like this, they have tended to be Roman Catholic and they have tended to be slightly crazy. Boring crazy. I've known sane Catholics who don't have this tendency. But with the ones who do exhibit it, I do not argue, with them or any other form of crazy people.

My grandmother taught me a useful thing: how to quietly observe people. Sooner or later, wherever you are, someone is bound to do something you can laugh about on the way home.

So I use my little cultivated ability to say absolutely nothing, just polite and genial noncommittal fribbles. So I do not say to this woman all that I think of her painter friend. I tell her as much of the truth as I can, but I am not obligated in any way to give her my whole mind about it. If, for example, I used Caroline's phrase "pointless accuracy" in conversation with this woman, she'd go ape shit. She wouldn't see it. She wouldn't see, for example, why I think that "Li'l Vato" has more (or more interesting) subject matter. And because her guy's technical ability is so evident I'd find myself having to explain that no, I'm not churlish, no, I'm not a completely ignorant judge of the technical matters involved, no, I'm not crazy or weird or perverse. And so I'd be called out to defend my views in a trivial and basically one-sided transaction.
This I will not do, as it is undignified. And also pointless. Moreover, I also feel that I didn't start this conversation; we have to be slightly better friends before I start defending my ideas to you.

Caroline has started going to life drawing herself. She notices, with discomfort, that the conversations are dinky and provincial. As I imagine they very likely are. Shawn used to say that he would go to an adult ed-type life drawing workshop only if a policeman with a gun was ordering him to go. And I could see why, but I don't know why none of this bothers me very much. There has so far been only one group that hugely bothered me, that was a group out in Sonoma County. There was the nice group and then there was the old group of troopers who had been doing it together a long time. Each evening that I drew with the old troopers, I found myself loathing them all a little more.

One night one of the members gave a talk on modernism. I guess they did this from time to time. I listened very politely and realized that he didn't know anything about it. But he knew more than most of the people in the room, who, by the way, all affected a sort of "modern" style of drawing or slopping paint on with sticks or doing cunning things with pastel that required taking your shoes off... And it all sort of looked alike, more or less. Not exactly but there was a group mind, definitely. I was not interested in becoming a member of this group mind, as far as drawing went. Anyway, I realized that the last thing that would have ever occurred to anybody was that the mostly quiet black woman who had started showing up could have talked circles around them on this very subject. And I chose to leave it that way. I think, once, at drinks afterwards, I let some knowledge of something slip, some enthusiasm slipped out over some subject not on the unspoken agenda, and was met with a sort of stunned silence.

So as time went by I had less and less to say to anybody there. And I only went because drawing and painting were the sanity of my solitary life. I mean, I had my friends, but on Wednesday and Thursday nights I went out to draw, and on the weekends as often as I could I painted and for those periods of time was completely in the moment. No worries at all. Then one night the same guy who had spoken about modernism came over and asked me how he could help me with my drawing. "What are you trying to achieve?' Jeeeesus Jenny!

I think I stopped going to that group shortly after that. It was hard to give up a night of drawing, But even I have my limits.

Anyway the real reason I got this sticker is because of Caroline. She knows why.


At 10:45 AM, Blogger Leigh said...

She notices, with discomfort, that the conversations are dinky and provincial.

I love this sentence, and this post, and all of your posts, even when I just lurk.

My (13 year old) daughter brought this up the other day, talking about a schoolmate who bored her, said stupid things, trying to be funny. This led to a discussion about how one spends too much time humoring dolts, in the interest of being polite, getting along. I told her I hoped she could nip it in the bud in a way that I didn't learn to do until adulthood. She said she'd try, choosing silence over false enthusiasm or phony boosterism.

At 6:56 PM, Blogger Kia said...

Yeah, the false enthusiasm leaves a bad taste, I find. Silence is good. One thing I didn't say was that I am actually a pretty argumentative person. So I choose silence because I know that I will keep badgering at people long after they have tired of the subject.

This silence trick was slow in coming. Partly it's a feeling such as I've described which is sort of snotty -- "Who are you that I should have to explain myself or prove anything to you?"

Also my mother keeps telling me not to explain myself.

What was the trick you learned for deflecting doltery? I mean, I'm assuming you mean without being mean.

There's the whole kindness thing, too. I am a loony maagnet. Not as much of one as my grandmother was, but definitely I've got that something that draws them. And you see that, and of course you have to be kind. Because there is a need there, and you can make a difference, I think a few respectful kind words can do a lot for people actually.

With kids, it gets even more complicated, because sometimes they act stupid because they have so much energy -- I was a really pathetic goof as a kid mostly for that reason, I had no control over my mouth and I had such a desperate hunger to impress everybody.

At 1:05 AM, Anonymous lani said...

Well kia,
I often hate all kinds of people in my drawing and yoga classes-also people in an audience or at a party. I attribute all kinds of bad qualities to them.I imagine they can sense my discomfortand feel my insecurity.I wish i could go to class and just be left alone. I cannot possible be as boring and pedestrian as all these people.I look for help-someone amusing or smart.I sneak in to the last row.But in spite of all this I still go...

At 10:10 PM, Blogger Kia said...

I tell myself that people are not really obligated to make themselves pleasant or interesting to me. Also sometimes what makes people seem uninteresting is just their own absorption in their own lives and preoccupations -- which I can find a lot of sympathy for.

Yeah I think you are safe from being boring or pedestrian.

The thing about those folks in that Sonoma County group was not so much that they were boring, which I could forgive, as that they were rather rude. Plus this little philosopher coming over to "help" me draw. I mean there was a certain amount of clueless condescension in it. People will say nice things to one another about drawings in the groups I go to here, but nobody thinks they are helping you. It's more of a "Who doesn't need an encouraging word?" kind of thing.


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