The week that was.

Hey, look what came in the mail! The fall SAQA Journal!

This edition has an article by Kathleen McCabe about some of her experiences curating the No Place to Call Home exhibit. The story has photos of a couple of the pieces in the exhibit, Kathy Nida’s One Paycheck and my Leaving.

Yeah, Kathy Nida posted a photo of this over on her blog first. She also made the excellent point that the article may serve as a warning to other curators.

I won’t delve into that too much, other than to say that I’m a little hurt that nobody bothered to protest my artwork, since at least one person was evidently in the mood to complain about portions of the exhibit. I personally find depictions of violence or its aftermath quite a bit more offensive than simple nudity. I would have totally understood people calling TV stations to complain about my work. In fact, I probably would have sent out press releases about it to take advantage of the publicity. Oh, well. What can you do?

Here’s a larger view of Leaving, and here’s some of the back story about its inspiration, the death of Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax. Yes, that’s an EKG waveform stitched into the background, decaying and eventually going flat as the person dies.

Leaving is in a more graphic style than most of my work of late, but somehow that seemed a better choice for this particular message. It’s more of a design than an illustration. I don’t think much would have been gained by showing the dying person’s facial expression or other details. (If you’ll send me a dollar, I won’t post additional photos showing how I put the dying man’s head at the center of a golden spiral.)

Anyhow, Kathleen’s article is intelligent and insightful, well worth a read if you’ve ever been curious about how some of these exhibits come together. If you’re a member of SAQA, you should either receive your copy in the mail soon or it can be downloaded from SAQA’s website.

As for me, I’ve been in a funk lately. It happens. I’ve been working on a new series of 5-6 pieces for a year, stuff harking back to my Domestic Goddess character. I wanted to see whether I’m happier working on fairly realistic illustrations or more abstracted pieces, so of course I put myself through an extremely artificial exercise designed to drive myself insane. When I realized that I couldn’t see the series clearly anymore, couldn’t tell whether it was good or purely awful, I had to put it aside.

Off to the closet with you!

Then, when I was looking back at a bunch of my portraiture, it dawned on me that some of the stuff would look great on china plates. You know the plates I’m talking about – they have doggies, kitties, or frolicking angelic children on them, and they aren’t used for eating. In fact, you aren’t even supposed to breathe hard in the same room lest they fall off the wall and break. (Gotta protect that investment, doncha know! They cost $19.95 apiece from the Franklin Mint and are BOUND to appreciate!)

I really don’t mean to be critical of the people who enjoy them – to each her own – but for me, they have indelible associations with cheap panelling, shag carpets encrusted with cigarette smoke, and cut glass dishes full of dusty orange candy slices. That realization plunged me even deeper into the funk.

Well, what can I or anyone else do about a funk? Live with it awhile, then shake things up. Think about someone else’s problems, volunteer at a soup kitchen, travel to Bolivia and help the locals build solar ovens, try some new techniques.

I really didn’t want to spring for a plane ticket to Bolivia and I already volunteer at a local school (much to the annoyance of the teachers and the children), so I delved into a new book. Specifically, James Gurney’s book on visualizing things which don’t exist. It’s full of great tips about building different types of reference models and maquettes, modeling characters on animals, and even drawing the occasional voluptuous mermaid.

Gurney’s book has been great. Sometimes we can tie ourselves into knots worrying about whether something is bad or good, when the important thing is to just work. Find something you care about, work, enjoy the sensation of being alive and working. Do something, and if you don’t like it, do something else. The good and bad thing will keep. Besides, somebody has to make paintings for those darned china plates.

I started thinking about things I’d like to visualize and draw. How about a city? I haven’t done any work with buildings in ages. What a great opportunity to get away from my portraiture rut! And what’s my favorite type of city? The domed ones from science fiction paperbacks! Boy, I used to eat that stuff up when I was a girl. Out came the Pyrex mixing bowls and my kid’s Legos:

Welcome to Luna City!

Okay; the model city is going to need some work, but it’s a fun proof of concept. We can build a rough model, light it, and have a little better idea of how to draw the things in our brains. Food for thought.

From there, I realized that I couldn’t just have the domed city in isolation. Why did we see the city? Who lived there? What was the person’s story? I started doodling. Pretty soon I ended up with a person in the picture:

More portraiture after all. Ah, well. Sometimes you just have to go with it.

Here’s more refined sketch. Based on this, I took some reference photos of a child posing. (“Hey, kid! Would you like a dollar? Sit here and put your foot up on this chair.”) In the next sketches, I’ll probably lose the Star Trek emblem but keep the Starfleet haircut.

I’d probably have a bunch more sketches done if the week hadn’t gone straight to hell. On the other hand, there’s a limit to how much I can complain: I am still alive and in one piece, able to sit at my computer and whine. Some other people are not. And no, that isn’t some kind of sick jest. I mean it quite literally.

(For a quick rundown, google “Shareef Allman” or read the stories at the Mercury News or the Daily Mail. Or not.)

Last Wednesday, around four a.m., some workers were going to the morning meeting at the local quarry. I can imagine it very easily, having attended many, many shift change meetings at midnight or other wee hours: people sitting around a conference table, trying to prop themselves up with coffee. A few congenial hellos exchanged, some thinly concealed yawns. Perhaps a few people thinking longingly of the nice warm beds they’d had to vacate, hating the necessity of working gawdawful hours yet grateful for the job.

Then one of their colleagues came in with guns and began spraying bullets and fear.

After the shooter had killed three of his colleagues and wounded seven others, he headed to the H.P. campus a few miles away. “Time to ditch my car and get another,” he must have thought. “I’ll go here. A campus which isn’t too visible from the road, with commuters trickling in. One of them will have a car for me. Oh, look. There’s a middle-aged woman. She won’t put up a fight.”

Only, she did. She did, and got shot for her efforts, so the shooter gathered up his guns and headed across the road to a residential neighborhood.

My neighborhood. Right down my cross street.

I got up that morning thinking happy thoughts about my new project, and let the dog out to pee. My goodness, there were sure a lot of helicopters around. I do hear helicopters now and then when there’s a traffic accident, but this was different. They were hovering over our neighborhood. Were they searching for someone?

Shot out my back door. Insert many hours of “thup thup thup” noise.

Uneasy, I went to the web to check the news. Hmm. A shooting at the Permanente Cement Plant in Cupertino. “Hoooooneeey???” I screeched to my husband, “There are an awful lot of helicopters. Do you think they have anything to do with the shooting at the cement plant?” He replied that they were probably responding to a traffic accident, and pulled up a website showing various road closures. Oh. Okay.

No more news came in, so we headed out the door to walk the boy to school. Huh. How strange! The street was empty! Normally there’d be all kinds of people out, driving or walking kids to school. We peered down the street and noticed that it was blocked off by a bunch of police cars. Huh. Also strange.

“I wonder what happened?” I muttered out loud. “Something at one of the neighbors’,” theorized my husband, “Something requiring more than one carload of officers.” “Oh, dear,” I replied vacuously, “I do hope no one is hurt. Well, the crossing guard will tell us what happened. She knows everything.” (It’s true. She does.)

Now, at this point, if this blog was the script for a movie, the viewer would be screaming “Turn back! Turn back!” and then an eleven foot tall monster would pop out of the bushes. Happily, one of my son’s friends came down the street instead. “School is closed!” he squealed, “They’re trying to find the bad man!” After tamping down his son’s excitement a bit, the boy’s father informed us that school was indeed closed because there’d been an attempted carjacking. And yes, it was related to the shooting in Cupertino and yes, that’s why we were being graced with helicopters and an impressive police presence.

“School’s closed!” I chirped to my family, “Say, why don’t we all go inside! Let’s do inside things!” We hurried home, only to stay locked inside for the next 24 hours. Our dull, wholesome street no longer seemed quite so dull or wholesome.

The daylight hours which followed were a parade of news reports, keeping my son occupied indoors, and chatter on the neighborhood mailing list.

Here I will pause to recommend that if your neighborhood has a mailing list, you join it. If there isn’t one, start one. Yes, there’s normally a lot of chatter on our list which I could care less about, and I do a lot of deleting. However, it was really nice having that near-instant conduit for information on Wednesday and Thursday, especially given that the neighborhood was on lockdown and the news media either wouldn’t or weren’t able to give us the information we needed.

This photo is the AP’s, not mine.

The thrum of helicopters was constant. There were reports of house-to-house searches, police tanks, SWAT teams. I watched the search from a live helicopter feed, giggling a trifle hysterically when a SWAT team armed to the teeth had to negotiate the underpants hanging from someone’s clothesline. I told my son what to do if he heard gunfire, a task I’d hoped to avoid indefinitely. We hid inside all day. Then, at nightfall, the helicopters went away, although I still heard them in the dishwasher and in the dog’s footsteps. They’d lodged themselves in my brain, the way a catchy song will do.

After all of that work, with LEOs from ten different agencies swarming the neighborhood with tanks, with house-to-house searches with dogs, with bloodhounds brought in and no doubt baying and slobbering down the streets, the shooter hadn’t been found. “Ah, he must have moved on,” we all theorized, “Probably he never was here. He must have made tracks out of the neighborhood right after the carjacking. All the same, let’s leave our yard lights on and lock up tight.”

The next morning, I didn’t feel terribly eager to leave the house, despite having been locked up with a dog and a small child the previous day and not being particularly mentally sound. “Let’s not hurry,” I told my husband. I checked the neighborhood newsgroup over and over again. No news, no news, and then – shots fired! The shooter had revealed himself, and once again the neighbors were faster to report it than the news media.

Sheriffs deputies, keeping an eye on the neighborhood, had spotted him squatting behind a car. He made a “threatening” gesture with his gun and words were exchanged, the sort of thing which is often referred to as “suicide by cop.” Then he lay dead in someone’s driveway, a sad end to a tragic situation. Not five minutes before the shooting, a mother and child had walked by the driveway on their way to school. He could have killed them, but he chose not to.

In many ways, my life was barely affected. I wasn’t shot and I didn’t lose a loved one. I wasn’t a 24-year-old deputy, barely past drinking age, having to gun down a murderer in someone’s driveway. I wasn’t a sheriff or police officer concerned about the possibility of a rampage through a residential area, with more people killed or wounded. I wasn’t even a teacher or the principal at a local school, trying to get facts and keep staff and students safe. My loved ones and I were probably never in danger. All I had to do was stay indoors with my family for a day.

Nevertheless, my nerves have been jangling ever since.

Maybe next week will be better. PIQF is at the end of the week. I’ll try to get some photos posted after it’s over. If you’re interested, please stop by.

4 Responses to “The week that was.”

  1. Caity says:

    OMFG! “I told my son what to do if he heard gunfire, a task I’d hoped to avoid indefinitely”…. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!!! Wow. Just… wow. I live somewhere where firearms are far less freely available (ok, so long as you don’t count the bikies clubhouse/meth lab up the road) and I can’t imagine what this might have been like for you and your neighbourhood… my nerves would be waaaay past jangling and into “inpatient”!

    Before all that I was going to say, hey, thanks for the heads up on that book, looks like just the sort of thing to get me out of my drawing funk, and hey, nice job on the sketch for the Boy Of The Future (aka “dude, flying cars AT LAST”!)… but now I’m just sitting here thinking guns BANG LOCKDOWN MURDER EEEEEEEK….

  2. Martha Ginn says:

    I had seen Kathy Nida’s piece but not yours, so will be eagerly watching for my SAQA Journal to read Kathleen’s article. Your “Leaving” is moving in its stark simplicity, and I can almost HEAR the EKG lines you have quilted in the background. I hope you will take a breather after your disturbing week of horror in your neighborhood. I have read your blog lately and now have added it to my Google reader so I won’t miss anything!
    Martha Ginn

  3. meggie says:

    I feel such a twit, at the comment I left on your FB. Have just read the real thing here, and am in awe. Of the events, and also your wonderful talented quilt. xx

  4. Martha Gillispie says:

    My goodness….such a ordeal and with no knowing of the outcome in the midst of swat swarming the neighborhood. Wise to keep indoors until you recieved the all clear. Perfect proof that we are really not safe anywhere and have no certain promise of tomarrow. Difficult to relax and get the creative juices flowing again. Hope the helicopters leave the dishwasher and soon just be busy about cleaning dishes once again. Stay safe…..I enjoy reading your blog….such a way with words!!