Serendipitous Iris

Today as I was searching for some wise words to inspire and ignite some passion for a current writing project, I found this David St. John poem, the find sort of fitting in with this current blog theme but also as prelude to a favorite painting :

Van Gogh, "Irises" 1889

And to elaborate on that theme, here’s something from the late fiction writer, Iris Murdoch, whose letters I read and catalogued for a grad school research project in Special Collections; this was correspondence between Iris and a beloved lit professor, Naomi Lebowitz (such a wonderful mentor and so inspiring herself as well).  The letters were delicious, full of her love of life, passion, urgency, and fervor:


“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad
with joy the whole time to have such things about us. ”
Iris Murdoch

And my favorite Iris novel, the cover’s illustration sort of remiscent of the Japanese paintings that were such an inspiration to Van Gogh, and you can definitely see it here. ..the sea,the sea reaching out to us with its fingerlike waves:

And now for the poem quote:

I love how the flower parts inspire a childlike wonder and free association of objects here.


From “Iris”
by David St. John
"There is a train inside this iris:

You think I'm crazy, & like to say boyish
& outrageous things. No, there is

A train inside this iris.

It's a child's finger bearded in black banners.
A single window like a child's nail,. . ."

Birds, Bugs, and Other Sciencey Stuff. . .Happy Father’s Day, Dad

When I was growing up, unlike a lot of kids my age, I almost never had to worry about having too many questions.

Anytime I had things to ask about, things for which a kid needed immediate answers, immediate fleshing out with full descriptions including the latin classifications, words longer and more inscrutable than the ones you got in church, mostly questions about things like birds, bugs and other sciencey stuff, . .

I always knew the guy to go to.

Mostly I remember following him around the house, one hand tugging on the hem of his shirt. .  . the other clenched around a smashed set of wings, the iridescent powder coating the insides of my fingertips. ..”Hey Dad, what kinda butterfly is this?”

(A dead one, Kiddo)

If he didn’t know the answer, he never seemed to mind looking it up for us. ..and then launching into a couple bazillion brief words about the meaning of life as seen through the biology teacher’s microscope.


Sometimes he would sing to us too, in this exaggerated baritone voice. ..mostly weird old folksongs. . .the one about the old lady who swallowed a lot of insects. . .the one about a boy’s best friend being his mother (his ma) and this one. . . never mind we all grew up in towns surrounded by corn and not cotton:

I also remember the way he adored and still adores my Mom, and spent those post-honeymoon days chasing her around the house, trying to coax a smile out with his favorite Hank Williams tune (I doubt he even remembers, but I do) :

Dad has always been a lotta guys to me. Mom and to the rest of my siblings. . .

Always the right words of embarrassment in front of friends

and the awkwardness of our names being called in a hillbilly holler for dinner heard from two blocks away. ..

Bug identifier, storm cloud watcher, furnace fixer, Christmas lightstrings untangler, long-winded philosopher and explainer of all things great and small. ..but mostly he was just a pretty good person to have around the house when we needed him.

Thanks for teaching how to love the right stuff, Dad.

Love, Tessilu

More Cowbell

It is early morning.  Your throat is dry.

Your bladder is full and all you can do is lie there and pray the sky falls

or an earthquake, anything to keep you from having to cross the room and risk the stuff on the other side of coffee.

It is on a morning like this you literally must take it one step at a time.  Literally.  One.  Step.  at.  a. time.

And you just can’t do it on your own without some kind of propeller. . .one you can put your finger on and spin it. ..

for this you need a mantra of some sort.

Mine has always been fairly simple. I put no thought into it whatsover.  It just happened as I was dragging my fanny perpendicular down the steps so do some laundry I’d been avoiding. ..

And it goes like this.

foot down

foot down

foot down

(that’s it.)

foot down

foot down.


OUCH goddmanit.  (sorry, mom.  sorry, god)



And after I get tired of that, the invisible sisyphus in my head just keeps droning until all I am saying is a lot of syllables that have about as much logic as that step on a crack stuff.

And likewise, mantra as phrase to drive away fear in its most basic manifestations.

Fear of not having anything to say in front of strangers.   (Thus the repetition of  those same basic syllables over and over ad nauseum. . .)

Fear of having too much in front of strangers. ( Thus the idea of keeping the overall message short and sweet.)

Fear of strangers in general. (Thus the intense focus on the sidwalk in order to avoid their x-ray  eye contact.. .Especially once you become self-aware enough to realize you’re talking to yourself without a cellphone.)

But then there are the very real fears left over from childhood, fears that just made you scream till three in the morning, taking a break from it just long enough to ask for a glass of water.

Fear of other kinds of falls besides the sidewalk stuff, falls from forgetting where the imaginary island ended. ..and the imaginary water began. ..

Fear of falling into the toilet

Fear of seeing the dust monster under the bed, the one who liked to send messages in morse code. . .

and of course stop typing the moment your parents came in the room,

even though he was probably just waiting on an answer from the zombie outside the window . . .

fear of flunking the physics quiz. . .fear of unidentifiable bugs. ..

And what kept  you going forward

in the face of all those things

is what amounted to more fear .

Step on a crack and you’ll break your mother’s back. 

Step on a hole and the answer to that is just too awful for me to mention.

Which simply suggests to me

that there is comfort in knowing that if you faux pas over something small and insignificant

in the grand scheme of things, you must pay a very high toll to keep on going.

I imagine even Sisyphus in his bondage to that rolling stone must have had a mantra of sorts or he would have burst into flames or something.

“Foot down.  Foot down.  Foot down.”

Foot down.

Foot down.

Foot down.

Rock up

Rock up

Rock up

Foot down

Foot down.

Rock down.

Rock down.


Step on a crack, you break your mother’s back.

Foot down

Foot down

Foot down

Foot down

Foot down

Foot down

Rock up

Rock on

(i totally stole the teacups pic from this website:

What works for you. . .


So today I begin work on a new painting.  There is a clean canvas on the kitchen easel. ..the rubbermaid palette is freshly scrubbed and ready to receive the splats, blobs and sloppiness again. . .the scrapes and dabs and dry spots.

(Gotta love those plastic palettes with a lid and an undersponge. I am a slow study and need to conserve wet paint on an extremely limited part-time instructor budget).

So now what is needed is some water, paint rags and creamed sweet coffee, followed by a plethora of pre-painting google searches: Impressionist technique, abstract art. ..but also pastels and paintings. .. most likely including: Cassatt, Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Brancusi, Renoir, and Billy the sidewalk chalk boy.


I also need to fix myself up with some tunage. ..something that will help move the brush across the blank page. ..keep the blood going. . encourage some lame attempts at humming, jumping, and sing-a-long stuff.

Public domain photo of The Pogues by The Wiki Ghost

I like early Dylan for this. . .assorted blues music including John Lee Hooker and Billie Holliday. . .maybe some Corinne Bailey Rae, who always keeps it upbeat and playful. . . Judy Collins. . .Pogues. . .Fleet Foxes. . .Badly Drawn Boy. . .Iron and Wine. . .

Here’s a favorite Waterboys:

I wish I was a fisherman. . .

from “The Electric Significance of Singing the Blues”

Mary Cassatt (taped to my drafting table)

And the Answer to Yesterday’s Quiz Question Is. . .

Always a Work in Progress

Bringing it all Back Home

I began my last post by talking about cutting and collecting images for collage projects.  Later I shared a photo of a collage, a tiny work  initially crafted as an artist’s trading card (enlarged through the magic of WordPress).  Afterwards I promised to post a photo of the finished pastel painting inspired by the collage.

(I also provided a quiz question but more about that later, I promise.)

“What is it you want to say?”

Our last painting instructor was always asking us that question. .. and to be perfectly honest, I admit I always had trouble answering it. . .

but in the interest of personal growth and self-reflection, I’ll take another scissor point to it.

I guess at some other point, I decided the collage had been an attempt at creating a loose biographical narrative, one that also let me pretend I was someone from a fairytale, someone significantly more graceful and confident than I actually am. perhaps in this way, I am able to re-write my own script somehow . . .and create an image of the person I hoped I could always be.  So anyway, you will notice that I changed the haircolor of the most prominent figure and I also put a wreath of red roses on her head.  . .perhaps this was another wish coming forward as red roses symbolize true love, another thing I would someday like to include in my own story, I suppose.  You might also notice I left out the giant diamond on the roseholder’s hand. ..a pink rose. ..I think that’s  maybe about an innocent kind of love in the language of flowers. . .

I suppose I maybe did it to say something about the way I feel about diamonds as gifts in general.  Pretty to look at. . .and sometimes enviable, but kind of non-existent on my personal to do list (and perhaps that could be a fox and grapes kind of thing underneath as well, but for now I just sort of idealize friendship and sharing a common bond. . .equality I guess. ..and if asked how I feel about it. ..I would have to say that I disagree with the diamond industry’s suggestion that three months salary is enough to show a woman “that you love her.”

Three months of laughter and joyful sharing, on the other hand I believe, really IS something to include on one’s to do list. ..

though I know many women who might think it’s low self esteem talking when someone says that, which I actually can’t deny and yet. .. )   But also I sort of wanted to say that our story continues beyond the boundaries of these modest creations, beyond the limits of what our imaginations can conjure.

Back to the Nuts and Bolts and Whatnot

OK so you might also note in reading the details from the photo that I’m actually sort of cheating by working from grids, which I learned in studying the old masters who practiced this method all the time (I like that word practice. . .because I feel that’s the stage I’ll be in for the rest of my life. . .practice, practice, practice.)  Apparently it’s easier for our brains to read images that carry no pre-conceived opinions formed in our heads. . .

so to in order to accomodate for that, we record our impressions of abstract lines and shapes within the boundaries of these small boxes.

(Recently I also learned that artists who work in photo-realism oftentimes use projectors. ..actually draw and paint in the dark by the light of the magic lantern.)


And the answer to my quiz question is:

Kaloma, who is often mistaken for the Josie Earp, wife of Wyatt.



And as promised, here is the finished pastel painting made from the collage:

First the collage:

And now the painting, shown with closeups and side views:

Have an awesomest day . . .peace shalom. . .namaste!  Go and create~


Quiz for next time:  Name the inspirational female artist whose pastel appears taped to my drafting table.  Name the work so much the better!

Hint: Degas made a painting of her holding a poker hand

The temple bell stops. . .

Morning Rituals:

After a refreshing breakfast consisting of an egg and sliced grapefruit, I went to water the garden and check on tiny new plants: tomatoes, basil, lavender and coreopsis, all of which seem to be adjusting just fine and thriving in their new home.

The peace rose I planted four years ago now stands five feet tall among them and its blooms are heady with scent.

“I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.”  ~Emma Goldman

I grew up in a gardening family descended from florists on my mother’s side, so you’d think I’d perhaps had  my fill of it by now, but truth be told, I still get so excited just watching things grow, blossom, and bear fruit.  Such small wonders and yet so precious and memorable.


Summer classes begin in a week and soon I’ll be taking that trip across the river to join friends and colleagues. . .greeting new students and getting settled in for the next eight weeks.

But for now, I’m just taking advantage of all this time to make new work and be inspired by bees, blossoms and bugs.

“The temple bell stops but I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers. ”