January 24, 2006

Using Your Cell to Express Yourself

Filed under: Art and About the Everyday — admin @ 9:49 pm

I am not a cell phone person. I was given my first cell phone as a teenager to be used for emergencies and I still carry my phone for emergencies only. Sometimes the emergency is needing to call my husband to tell him the cutest piece of furniture at the thrift store needs a good home. But other than that, I don’t use it to make calls and no one calls me on it because they know I probably won’t answer.

Cell phones have gotten pretty artsy in recent years, and I’m not talking about the whimsically colored and patterned phone your teenager is carrying. The variety of phone rings in the world is astounding. Peripherally, I hear the individualized rings polluting the sound space around me. I never considered them more than a nuisance or outright irritating, depending on the place the phone was ringing. I growl when someone tells an “amusing” story about how he was at the movies and at the emotional peak of the film, his cell phone suddenly rings “Beat It.” I’m all for individual expression, but not every time is the right time to stand out.

For the last few months I’ve been borrowing another person’s cell phone. Since I am not a cell phone person, I did not bother to change the ring when I got it. I never heard it ring before receiving it, and for the first two months it sat silently in my purse. Then one day I was driving by myself when samba music started to play. I couldn’t help myself as I started car dancing while trying to mental locate where the music was coming from. By the time I realized it was my phone, it stopped samba-ing. It was a lilting few moments, and then life moved on.

Several weeks later, my husband and I were cleaning up the kitchen when the samba started again. It still took me a second to remember what it was. My completely befuddled husband exclaimed, “What is that?!” While his eyes scanned the room for the responsible technology, I noticed he couldn’t stop his arms and legs from samba-ing. I said it was my phone and he laughed. It was not a ring he associated with me and he wasn’t surprised to learn I hadn’t chosen it. Still, the ring transformed an uninteresting chore into an impromptu samba session for a minute or two.

I have to admit, I’m hearing more rings in line at the supermarket or when standing at the pump at the gas station that make me smile. There are some good rings out there. My husband, who is the polar opposite of me when it comes to the cell phone realm, told me a story that indicates these rings are prompting discussions about whether a person’s audible identity as reflected by his cell ring matches his public image. Matt was testing a new service provider by carrying his sister’s cell for a few days. It rang “Mozart” at work and his coworkers commented on the mismatch. My husband made the fascinating observation that he didn’t really like the Mozart because he wanted a “phone to sound like a phone.” My husband’s regular cell rings two rings, one identifying someone calling from work and another for the rest of the world. To my ears, both these rings are musical and don’t sound in the least like a phone “should.” Even the definition of a phone ring is expanding while it becomes more individualized.

It seems that if an iPod helps you express who you are to yourself inside your headphones, cell phone rings have become a sound identity outside your mind, almost an accessory item like jewelry. We’re all characters in “Peter and the Wolf” with a personal melody to accompany our journey through life’s daily adventures. Bubbly extroverts choose ear-catching jazzy numbers. Someone with a more subtle approach to life chooses more mellow tones. A teenager doesn’t have to have the same ring as her stodgy parents. A cell phone can even express our effervescent inside selves in a “safe” way when our reserved outside demeanor gives away few clues.

Obviously, I am beginning to appreciate cell phones as communication devices beyond the power to transmit your voice from here to there. You still better only call me if you are on fire, though.

January 9, 2006

Finding Art in the Most Unexpected Places

Filed under: Art and About the Everyday — admin @ 9:41 pm

One of life’s simple pleasures for me is when art and/or creative expression pop up at unexpected times and in unexpected places. I’ve been collecting some of the best examples in my life over the last few years, and people have sent me stories about run-ins with art that they experienced. These anecdotes go to show that that at any given moment, the arts can enhance our lives.

For instance, in San Diego, there is a Labor and Delivery nurse who plays “Happy Birthday” on her violin for all babies born during her shift. She doesn’t play the violin very well, but what a special way to greet an infant with welcoming music. Any of us who deliver a baby or find ourselves in the delivery room at that big moment could easily sing “Happy Birthday” to the newborns in our lives. It’s so simple, it’s a wonder it’s not already a long-held tradition in our culture. Maybe we could make it one.

Three days before Christmas, I was in line at the post office at lunchtime with my two-year old daughter. There was the expected and requisite line. My daughter was well-behaved and we were making steady progress toward the front when the man in front of us commented on the wait. Then he reached into his pocket, pulled out a red balloon and proceeded to sculpt a mouse for my daughter. Watching my daughter’s face go from surprise to delight no doubt mirrored my own reaction. A few minutes later, the stranger performed the same merrymaking trick for the next child to join the line. It was a happy holiday indeed!

In the category of “Why didn’t I think of that?” artist Susan List told me about a gig where she was hired to paint at a couple’s wedding reception. Susan does plein air painting, meaning she has the skills to compose and complete a painting on site, which she did during the course of the event. She said her painting process entertained guests and the newlyweds got a unique record of their wedding day. Hiring an artist to paint during the wedding day was the couple’s idea and what a brilliant idea it was! Every couple wants their wedding to be unique and individualized. What better way than to commission an original piece of artwork created amidst the emotion and energy of that special day? It’s almost enough to make me want to do my wedding over again.

Sometimes we find art in places where it shouldn’t be all that unexpected but alas, it is. Mel Ahlborn, President of the Episcopal Church & Visual Arts, sent me a link to an article in the Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne, Indiana. It discusses churches which are exhibiting sacred and non-religious art to “highlight the spirit of creativity, rather than focus only on what is expressly sacred or artists who are specifically Christians.” The article cites Christians in the Visual Arts, a non-profit organization that works to inspire and encourage artists to engage the secular culture with art that speaks to the transcendent without being overly religious. CIVA also strives to honor art, whether made by Christians or not, that depicts the world and life with veracity and beauty. As one CIVA board member states, “The church needs both kinds of art and should encourage Christian artists who make each.” I think this should be a no-brainer for any religious or spiritual group, but a story like this wouldn’t be in a newspaper if it was common.

I’m not supposed to be writing about this last one, but I can’t help myself. I’ll be appropriately vague to protect the identity of the person whom I am describing because I promised this person that I would not write a column about what he or she did. However, at a holiday event, this person presented me and several others with hand-crafted holiday decorations that this person made. This person adamantly denied any prior inclination toward being artsy and craftsy, but this person had decided to try some creative expression this holiday season. This person “blamed” my column for making her do this. All of this was reported with a big smile. Obviously, the experience was not too painful. There was nothing more special under my tree on Christmas morning than the multi-symbolic gift this person gave me.

The moral of these stories? There is no better time and place for the arts in our lives than this time and place.

August 31, 2005

The Magic Powers of Photo Paper

Filed under: Art and About the Everyday — admin @ 10:11 pm

A recent episode of the Cathy comic strip had Cathy’s mom wondering what to do with all the photos people were emailing her or handing her on disk. She didn’t feel right about throwing them away but didn’t want to keep them, either. I felt her pain. I am equally perplexed about what to do with the unsolicited pictures people give me, digital or otherwise.

I used to think photo paper had a magical property that prevented me from throwing away any image that was handed to me by a friend or relative. From an early age, I remember politely enjoying the photo and then with great guilt, shoving it in a drawer until I could decide what to do with it. When the drawer was full, those photos convinced me they were worthy of being put in a memorabilia box.

Recently, I have been organizing and arranging all my memorabilia into scrapbooks. As I worked back in time to things I have kept from childhood, I was confronted once again by a lifetime of unwanted photos. Some of the pictures are of people whose names I can’t remember. But there is something about that photo paper that causes me to give time and synapses to contemplating whether or not these rejected photos should have a second chance at being glued down for all posterity.

My regard for photo paper was only re-enforced when my son was born 5 years ago, just about the time everybody was getting a digital camera. Since he was our first child, we took thousands of pictures. We posted the best ones on our Web site. Some family members emailed us that they were thrilled with the pictures, but wondered if we had any “real pictures” to send them. I knew that “real pictures” didn’t just mean printouts — they wanted images captured on film and developed onto photo paper.

I understood what they were saying and I complied. I also began to hypothesize that photo paper was powerless until it did a mystical and mysterious dance with 35 mm film. This had to be the reason that printouts of digital images on photo paper were second rate for my relatives. For almost a year, I shot everything digitally and on film. This is the awesome power of photo paper.

I also had a problem framing a digital image printout. I perceived the frame to have a certain worth, and the printout didn’t live up to that value. However, I had no issue framing mass-produced movie and theater posters and covering my living room walls with them. It occurred to me that maybe the photo paper wasn’t enchanting me, but rather the image was. It is said that when photography was first introduced to some cultures, they had an adverse reaction to it because they believed the image was stealing a part of the soul of the person in the picture. Maybe there is something to that belief, but instead of photos “stealing” the soul, they are actually capturing a bit of the soul.

By mentally replaying my relationship with photo paper, I realized that I never had qualms about throwing away a personality-free picture of a mountain or a cathedral. It was the faces in the photo that had a hold of me, not the paper. Even faces of people I don’t remember have value. It’s as if the human face is the art, and I feel it should be mounted on a medium worthy of priceless treasures. In my worldview, that means plain old ink and regular paper aren’t special enough.

As time and technology advances, I have come to accept that the image is the important thing, not the paper it is printed on. This means that without too much therapy, I can now frame a digital printout. I still have a tough time throwing away unwanted pictures or deleting an email with a photo attachment. I am the queen of purging in other areas of my life, but those photos have a spell on me that I still can’t break.

August 18, 2005

A Prayer for Artists is a Breath of Fresh Air

Filed under: Art and About the Everyday — admin @ 10:13 pm

The group I sing in, Chorus Cappella, was the guest choir at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church one Sunday last month. During the course of the service, we came to the Prayers of the People. That day, Saint Paul’s took their prayer from “Glimpses of Glory” by David Adam, and invoked from the “God of grace and goodness” some very relevant requests.

First, the prayer said, “We ask you to bless all who are overworked, stressed and overanxious; we remember especially those who have no time for their homes or for leisure. We pray for the work weary, the exhausted and the worn out. We remember children who rarely see their parents and who lack affection. We pray for all who are restless and cannot enjoy where they are.”

Then followed the most powerful, poignant and eye-opening portion of the prayer for me; “We give thanks for our homes, for places of peace and quiet, for places of leisure and recreation. We pray for all who help us relax: for musicians, artists, broadcasters and sportsmen and sportswomen. We pray for our friends and our loved ones.”

Wow! The idea of praying for the general well being of musicians and artists because of the vital, life-sustaining service they provide to humankind set bells off in my head. It’s so obvious to pray for the hungry, the sick, our armed forces in Iraq. These prayers are usual, and by no means unnecessary. But to lift artists and musicians into the realm of those who deserve a collective positive vibe is rather extraordinary. Broadcasters and sportsmen and women deserve no less, but the inclusion of musicians and artists struck me because it is their talents I call upon when I need to relax.

I admit, when I escape to the theater, or pop on my favorite CD, or search for a DVD at the rental store, I selfishly await the diversion from everyday life, the thrill of the experience, but I don’t stop to say a private word of thanks to those who dedicate their lives to providing me fantasy.

Although I consciously enjoy a beautifully decorated home, or a storefront filled with art as I walk by or a gorgeously landscaped garden, I don’t think about the welfare of the person who provided my eye candy.

I need to keep visual and performing artists in my thoughts and prayers if I am to continue to espouse the mandatory place the arts must have in all our lives in order to make us complete and whole human beings. If they don’t thrive, neither do the rest of us.

Coincidentally, last summer when Chorus Cappella sang at Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church, a parishioner came up to me after the service to thank the choir for sharing our music in their Sunday worship. In an impromptu lecture, he told me that the Hebrew language has one word that means wind, spirit, and breath. It was a very hot morning and he felt that our singing had the same calming, comforting effect on him that air conditioning would have. It has taken me a year to figure out what he meant, but thanks to the prayer at Saint Paul’s, I finally get it. It was a huge compliment that we took his mind off the heat for an hour that day. We truly made a spiritual connection with him with a fringe benefit of providing psychological coolant. Now I need to be mindful of all the gifts I receive on a daily basis from the musical and artistic spirits who touch my life.

August 16, 2005

Artsy Twins

Filed under: Art and About the Everyday — admin @ 9:45 pm

When I was a child, I was fascinated by twins. Not having a twin myself, I romanticized the relationship between two people who once shared the same womb. I wondered about everything from what it was like to share a birthday to whether extra-sensory perception was a legitimate means of communication.

As I got older, I learned about the concept of twins in time — people who were born at the exact same moment you were. I wondered if my twins in time around the globe have anything in common with me other than the fact that we age at the same second every April 20.

Now, thanks to the Google search engine, I have discovered that I have an artsy twin with whom I share a name. Christina Engelbrecht came to my attention when I Googled myself one day and she popped up. I was surprised. Christina Engelbrecht is not the most common name and egocentrically, I thought Google would send me up first, since I’ve been published in a newspaper for seven years straight.

But Christina came up before me because she was a guest cartoonist for Rocktoons.com in 2004. My artsy twin is a visual artist! I should have known, since I can’t draw worth anything. She got the visual and I got the verbal in the family. We’re two sides of the same coin, a complete whole when put together. We complement one another, as twins should. Cool!

I started to go through my family and found that when my Google search consisted of a loved one’s name with the word “artist,” the world is full of artsy twins. My husband, for instance, has an artsy twin who is referred to as a “top New York interior designer” in a 2003 article from Art Business News. (By the way, my husband claims that in this exercise, he himself is indeed the artsy twin.) I’m thinking I should ask the New York artsy twin if he would come and do my house pro bono, being that we’re family and all.

My brother, a physician by trade, is part of artsy triplets. Both his “brothers” play in rock bands. One triplet plays guitar in Morgan Street, and the other plays guitar and vocals in a band called Murgatroid, which is called the “pioneers of Bacchanalian Rock” on the MySpace Music Web site. My brother has fantasized about being in a rock band for years. It’s nice to see two of three triplets out there living the dream.

My mother-in-law is also an artsy triplet. One of the set does graphic design and photography in Newcastle. The other is an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska who spoke on an October panel for the Arts Education Partnership to discuss “Effective Professional Development in Arts Education.” Think of the lively intellectual discussions at holiday gatherings between these three “sisters.”

One of my sisters-in-law is a singer so I could argue that she is the artsy twin in her pairing. But her namesake is the Director of National Media Relations for Sony BMG Music in Canada. If she and my singing sister-in-law got together, there could be a mutually beneficial record deal in the future.

My mother, who claims she is not an artist but only “follows patterns” while creating stunning quilts, dresses and other textile creations, is artsy twins with a painter in France whose paintings sell for thousands of dollars. My stepfather’s artsy twin makes jewelry, which is amusing because my stepfather loves to buy jewelry.

My lawyerly brother-in-law has an artsy twin whom does a radio show in Southern California about “The Ageless Wisdom,” a non-religious approach to spirituality, the nature of the Soul, and the development of consciousness. He could have some intense conversations with my engineering sister-in-law’s artsy twin, whose statement on Mytho-Poetic Expressionism reads, “Through my paintings I seek audience with intelligent people, people able to enjoy paradox, complications, ambiguities, the divine messiness of Life. Challenging, creative people, I invite them into reverie, an embrace of Soul.” These two sets of twins could have one interesting dinner party.

My father-in-law, who actually is a fraternal twin, has an artsy twin who writes arts criticism for “Source,” a magazine for contemporary photography in Britain and Ireland. Based on his art exhibit reviews, he seems to believe in making quality art accessible to all people, rather than being elitist about it. That’s someone I can relate to as an artsy uncle-in-law.

Of the friends and family I have Googled, so far only my brother’s wife has an elusive artsy twin. But she must be out there, or else my sister-in-law embodies all the arts in one persona. It’s been a flight of imagination for me, daydreaming about what familiar names are doing in an alternate reality. A little creative outlet on a hot August afternoon.

September 22, 2004

Cruisin’ Down the Highway on a Mission

Filed under: Art and About the Everyday — admin @ 10:05 pm

This summer, both of our cars went belly up. They were both old, and both had been in hospice care for a long time so their deaths were not unexpected. What was unexpected was that they would go within three months of each other leaving us as a zero-car family.

Choosing a new automobile for our family of four was pretty easy. It’s choosing a license plate that is requiring long, late night conversations between my husband, Matthew, and me.

Years ago, I decided that when I got a new car, I would get one of the California arts license plates. I didn’t realize that you could turn in your old plates at any time and buy an arts plate, which helps fund the California Arts Council for statewide arts programming, arts education and local arts within communities. The plate is $30, with about half of the sales proceeds going to the Arts Council, and the entire $15 renewal fee each year goes to the Council.

Matthew knows I have wanted an arts plate for a long time, and he supports that. So we went online to the DMV Web site to see what the plate looks like. We both thought we had never actually seen one. Wrong. I see them all the time, which is good and bad.

The arts plate is the one with the palm trees on the left and the rising sun over the ocean on the right. It is a classic California scene, and it seems like everyone has it. In fact, I learned from the DMV Web site that the arts plate, designed by Northern California artist Wayne Thiebaud, is the most popular specialty plate in California, with over 120,000 plates sold since 1994, raising more then $6.6 million for the arts. I love that statistic. I don’t love the plate. Matthew really doesn’t love the plate.

For some reason, we thought the arts plate would be more overtly visually political in its support of the arts. A painter’s palette, a theater façade, ballet shoes or even the Hollywood sign. My husband particularly doesn’t like that the plate represents a more typical Southern California scene rather than incorporating a Northern California image, and as a Northern Californian, he’s offended. He also just plain doesn’t think the picture is art.

After lengthy discussion we realized that since the plate itself does not make a statement about arts support, we needed to customize the plate so that it does make a statement. Personalized arts plates are $70, and $41.91 of that is a tax deductible donation.

Matt deferred to my arts message over his own, since this car is primarily a Mommy-mobile. Because of those palm trees on the left, the arts plate only gave me six symbols to say everything I ever wanted to say about the arts. And I thought 600 words per column was limiting.

It forced me to focus on the essence of my political message. Originally, I thought I wanted to make a statement, with my wallet and my car, about supporting the arts. But instead, the most important message is the one that informs this column, and all the arts stories I’ve ever written for the newspaper, and any arts conversation I’ve ever had. I want people to celebrate the artistic in their daily lives, with every breath, in everything they do and everywhere they go. My statement is “Be Artsy,” or B ARTSY, in license plate speak. Actually, that plate is taken, so now I need to Be Artsy is discovering a creative combination of symbols to shout my message down the highways and byways of California.

June 7, 2004

The Happy Faces at Costco

Filed under: Art and About the Everyday — admin @ 10:01 pm

If you ever shop at Costco in Concord, you may have run into Michael, the grinning gentleman who stands at the exit and double checks that the items on your receipt match the items in your cart. Michael has been a leader in the Happy Faces Art Movement at Costco. In lieu of slashing a highlighter line across the exiting receipt to show it has been given the once-over, Michael began drawing happy faces on receipts about a year ago and now the whole Costco door staff follows suit.

Those happy faces bring immense joy to my children, who anxiously await the end of our shopping trip when they can ask the door attendant to draw a happy face. All Michael’s colleagues do it now, and what is delightful for me is that the happy face on our receipt is invariably mirrored in the faces of the Costco employee doing the artwork.

Everyone’s happy face is a little different. Michael does the traditional circle with dots for eyes and nose, and an upturned mouth. But like handwriting, the variations on the theme appear to be infinite. I have learned that any combination of shapes, scribbles, zig-zags and swirls can be combined to make a happy face. Since personally I have never investigated the possibility of developing a signature happy face, I sometimes wonder where my artistic voice would lead me if I got to stand at a door day after day honing a beaming icon.

One trip, my kids and I were privy to a conversation between two door watchers. A young man had decided to break the shackles of convention and draw flowers instead of happy faces on his customers’ receipts. Without missing a beat, his female colleague asked what kind of flower he was going to draw. He thought maybe he would do a tulip with a short stem and two leaves. The woman wondered aloud whether a flower would be as universally well received as a happy face. The man firmly defended the flower idea declaring it was definitely a picture everyone would enjoy. Yes, this was an actual conversation.

The happy faces at Costco are a heartwarming touch of humanity amid the sterile warehouse environment of megastore commercialism. They provide an intimate topper to an impersonal shopping experience among the hundreds of crates and stacks and overfilled shopping carts. Costco is the last place I would expect to make an artistic connection with someone, but with those happy faces, the people who stand at the door instantly change from nameless employees to fellow human beings.

I’ve wondered if the impact of the happy faces would be as significant to me if I lived at a time when communication was still generated primarily by the human hand. I’ve always felt there’s an intangible personal connection when something has been physically touched by another person before coming into my hands, such as a letter or note or piece of art.

My son recently got a handwritten letter from his aunt and uncle asking him if he wanted to become their penpal. A follow-up note to me said that they didn’t mind if the letters were email or snail-mail. For a moment, I thought about how much easier it would be to have my son dictate emails to me. But then I remembered how excited he got when that letter arrived in the mail, and how he carried it everywhere he went. I think through that letter, my son felt his aunt and uncle had physically spanned the 3000 miles to connect with him. That human connection is what life is all about. We will definitely be sending a handwritten reply.

July 11, 2003

Artfully Opening the Lines of Communication

Filed under: Art and About the Everyday — admin @ 9:53 pm

While waiting for our appointment in the lobby of American Express in Walnut Creek, my husband and I came up with a game to occupy the minds of two over-educated MFAs. We were sitting across from a soft pastel abstract of mostly hazy images sharing the canvas with a recognizable though free-floating bridge and some discernable foliage.

Matt broke the silence with a tongue-in-cheek, “When I look at that painting, I see a dream world that eludes the grasp of man.”

After a guffaw, I took a moment to look at the painting and came up with a little b.s. of my own.

“With the soft strokes in the sky and the bolder images on the ground, the artist is trying to say that the more specific our goals, the more grounded in reality they are.”

Without missing a beat, Matt said, “The bridge represents transitions between phases of our lives.”

Gesturing broadly over the painting I queried, “Isn’t it interesting how distant memories from our childhood are more clear than our recollections of what happened yesterday?”

“That was a good one,” Matt grinned.

Although it started as a farce to pass the time, our little exercise ended up luring us into a serious conversation about the painting. And as we worked to connect with the art, we entered into a dialogue with the artist, which is what art is all about in the first place.

We have found that this game is a very portable pastime that can be used just about anywhere by people ages one and up (based on some informal market research with our son as the only sample from the tot set). When my son was about one, I found that a cure for the wiggles when we had to wait in line somewhere or were held up someplace was to distract him by talking about art. So many places have art on the walls that is easy to overlook until one desperately needs to distract and engage a curious young mind. It has turned out to be a very effective and rewarding parenting technique. Back then, he would simply point out the artist’s use of representational objects, making sure that I understood that there was a fish, water and a tree on the canvas. I would then supply a narrative as to what I interpreted the fish, water and tree to be doing in the painting.

Now that Tyrian is two and a half, he has definite opinions about what he is looking at and no longer accepts my narrative. He will first tell me the fish is purple, the water is blue and the tree is green. Trees to him in paintings are always big trees, whether or not their scale in the painting is actually large compared to the other objects. I figure when he’s older, he’ll give me a lecture on how a tree empirically represents largeness, the vastness of the universe, the boundless dreams of mankind, the unending triumph of the human spirit, the power and majesty of Mother Nature — that sort of thing.

After establishing that he and I interpret the objects the same way, he will say the fish is swimming in the water, and that there is a big tree. On some days, the fish eats the tree. On other days, the fish isn’t swimming at all, but rather sleeping. Oh, and the water is wet. And every now and again, a painting will get some highly critical praise as he declares it “pretty.”

What do you know? Our waiting is over. The Toddler Lapsit at the Orinda Library is starting, or the doctor is ready to see us or we’ve reached the front of the line at Starbucks.

It works with adults for awkward silences at parties or in restaurants when the service is slow. Just try saying, “Wow, that is a yellow painting,” or “I wonder why the artist chose to immortalize that particular fruit stand,” and see how your friends and acquaintances take the bait and run with it. You’ll find you gain instant insight into their souls and a glimpse of their life experiences through their interpretations. Plus, it often just makes for a good conversation starter for someone to lead into a story that may or may not be related to the painting, but certainly was recalled due to its influence.
The best part about this game is that there are no rules, no one is ever wrong, and no one loses. All critiques and observations are valid. We can’t say that about many other things in this world.

May 26, 2003

Wind Festival Provides Some High-Flying Art

Filed under: Art and About the Everyday — admin @ 10:01 pm

What I love about art is that I often find it where I least expect it, and I am constantly expanding my definition of it.

The week before Memorial Day weekend, my husband emailed me a Web site link accompanied by the enthusiastic message, “Oooooh! Maybe we should go!” With great anticipation, I clicked on the link, only to find it brought me to information on the San Ramon Art and Wind Festival. However, the only two words that registered with me were “Wind Festival.”

I hate wind. Two things you’ll never catch me doing are riding in a convertible and flying kites. Of course, a majority of the wind festival centered around kites. My husband claims to like kite flying. He has a kite that I have carefully packed and unpacked as we moved from domicile to domicile. In the fifteen years we have been together, that kite has never been up in the sky. But, he convinced me to trek down to San Ramon on Memorial Day because our two-year-old would probably enjoy the kite demonstrations.

No sooner had we found a spot on the lawn to watch championship kite-flyers do their thing than our son was making a beeline to the sandbox as far away from the kites as possible. My husband ran after him and I was left with our eight-week old sitting in the wind watching the kites. I was not feeling very receptive to new experiences.

As my hay fever kicked in, I focused on my picnic lunch and wondered how long we had to stay before my son would be ready to head home for his nap. As kite-flyer after flyer did their routines to music, I heard the announcer run through a litany of awards and honors given the performers. These guys sounded like they were top of their field, so I decided to give them my attention.

The dancing the kites did in the air reminded me a lot of figure skating, of which I am a huge fan. I am one of those people who considers figure skating an art as much as a sport and ballet a sport as much as an art. Like figure skating or ballet, when choreography, music, skill and athleticism align, it is a goose-bump moment.

I learned that in the world of competitive kite flying, there are events for precision (tracing shapes and patterns in the sky), ballet and free-style (using multiple kites, props and costumes to express an idea). I learned you can go up to 72 miles-per-hour on a buggy pulled by a kite, called buggying. And I learned that when Brian Champie performed to Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” we were watching a routine that was internationally acclaimed, reaching kite enthusiasts around the world within 3 hours via the Internet when it was first performed at a competition. Wow! That’s like seeing Brian Boitano!

Needless to say, my allergy-induced bloodshot eyes were opened. Interestingly, I didn’t find the kites themselves very artistic. And I never made it over to the Art side of the Art and Wind Festival. But if you ever have a chance to see expert kite flyers in action, do it. I know they’ll at least be back at San Ramon’s 2004 Art and Wind Festival. Mark your calendars.

February 21, 2003

Stir Up the Retired Artist Within You

Filed under: Art and About the Everyday — admin @ 10:16 pm

When Moraga’s Ray Muer retired from the broadcasting industry 10 years ago, he wondered briefly what he was going to do during the newest phase of his life.

“I asked myself, ‘What am I going to do with my time? Play golf?’” he recalls.

Golf wasn’t the answer for Muer. He decided to return to his first love, the piano, and launched a career as a jazz pianist. He promised himself that however he spent his time, he would do it well. He took piano lessons as a kid, but never practiced more than an hour a day. The baseball field always beckoned. But for the last 10 years, Muer has been practicing four or five hours a day, plus playing gigs at night. He has studied with local jazz pianists, and treated himself to a 7-foot Yamaha grand piano to help hone his skills. When he was first getting into the swing of things, he was afraid to travel and be away from his practice sessions for too long, so he would work on his technique on the airplane tray table while in flight.
“My wife thought I was nuts,” Muer chuckles.

The hard work paid off, though. You may have heard Muer playing his dinner jazz repertoire at Prima’s or Scott’s restaurants in Walnut Creek, Jack’s Bistro in Jack London Square or at the Claremont County Club.

I have talked to a lot of retired Lamorinda folks pursing a second vocation or avocation in the arts. If it weren’t for them, I’m not sure we could fill the Sun arts page every week. They tend to fall into two categories — those who wait until retirement to do what they always really wanted to do, and those who rekindle an old artistic passion during retirement. Some of the latter group admit that they went back to memories of what they enjoyed doing in kindergarten, or grade school, to discover that their lives could use a little more paint, photography, sculpting, music, dance or theater.

I think covering the artistic community in Lamorinda is particularly inspiring for any of us who strive to make the arts a part of our daily lives. When the Sun arts page isn’t tapping into the talents of the retired community, we are often sharing the story of a stay-at-home mom who preserves a part of her life for the arts to balance herself creatively and spiritually with the demands of motherhood. The people we write about who are able to make a partial living in the arts usually have a steadier, non-artistic career on the side. Even the managing artistic director of the Town Hall Theatre has had to keep his day job. You expect this sort of thing in New York or Los Angeles where we presume every waiter is an actor. But your very own PTA president or dry cleaner or doctor maybe be living a double life as well.

All of these devoted artists are heroes of mine because they don’t let their passions die. It is too easy to forever put down that instrument after high school graduation. Or to let the paint pots dry up. Or to never go to another theater audition.

Whether a passion is golf, jazz piano or reading, those who live to retirement age with health and spirit intact are the lucky ones. When they look back on their lives as a whole, they will probably see a complete and fulfilling picture. My wish for the rest of us, though, is that we make the time to pursue our loves whether we’re 18, 30, 45 or 65.

My dad used to always talk about what he would do when he retired. The list was long, but his eyes always twinkled when he mentioned this or that fantasy. He died one month before his sixty-fifth birthday. Although I am certain he lived a life without regrets, I regret that I’ll never know what magic his retirement years had in store for him. He always said, “You never know, tomorrow I might be hit by a bus,” when he decided to do something whimsical or decadent. His bus happened to be cancer. For me, that collision was a bullhorn reminder of how the clock relentlessly tick-tocks our lives away regardless of how we’re spending our time. Maybe we should all pursue our passions as if a little part of us is already retired.