As much as I’d like to write something really important, some sharp thinking of mine, something that cuts deep when you read it, I’m in a bit of brain-muddle at the moment. A little too lazy to go upstairs and fetch the book I want to quote sometime. A little too busy with normal life to philosophize on something abstract. So I’m going to talk about kid art and how it’s hanging all over my house.
My three kids like to paint and draw and create. They often do this just for the fun of it. My son likes to make things look real, and my daughters like to play with colors and textures and ways to apply paint. All three of them like seeing their artwork on the walls. In fact, they don’t like to see their work go on the fridge because “then Mom will throw it away.” Very true. A magnet slips, a drawing of a cat slides to the ground, I stealthily pick it up and recycle it. So we have kid art on the walls. At first, I didn’t like the idea. I love art on the walls. But I love to pick what art goes on the walls. I like creating an atmosphere, or something like that. When my daughter hung her red house with blue smudges all around it, cut into some sort of strange polygon shape, directly over my husband’s side of the bed, I didn’t like it. I resolved to remove it within a few days. A month or two later, it’s still there. And I kind of like it. It’s cheerful, direct, naive. It reminds me of the artist. There’s definitely stranger things hanging on museum walls.
Maybe I’m sharp enough for a cutting thought after all. Here it is: I’m learning things about art from my kids. They are the next generation of artists (and indeed my youngest wants to be an artist when she grows up). Their art might not be worth much money, but that’s not what art should be about anyway. It’s about exploration, growing in your own process, creating something you want to share with the world. Or at least with Mom and Dad. In the prime wall space above their bed, which is reflected in the mirror across the room. She really has a good sense for location:)
I am reading Emma by Jane Austen (not my first time through), and I am currently on the ball scene. Of course, it is a much smaller ball than this one, in a room of a village hotel, not this glimmering golden ballroom, but there are elements of all fancy get-togethers that are universal, don’t you think? I recall my school’s equivalent of prom (we called it the Junior-Senior banquet), and I remember certain impressions, which I imagine are present in both this scene and in Emma. I remember an element of unusually high spirits–tipsy on life, not drink. The way we all dressed made it seem like we were all playing dress-up. I guess we were, but I don’t think I was supposed to actually think that thought. I believe there are quite a few people who can dress fancy and feel natural in those clothes. The decorations felt fake, no matter how elegant they really were. The conversation tended toward the ridiculous, or else small-talk, which I don’t do well.
I’m finding out that I am not portraying balls and the like with fairness. I am only portraying my own inability to enjoy them to the fullest. I don’t think I can ever accept them for what they are. I like them far better in books and pictures. And myself in flannel shirt and jeans. I am certain if I were at a ball like this I’d be seated, playing with the fan in my lap, wondering how long I had to stay. Mr. Knightley might come up and politely offer to dance, but I’m afraid he would admit later to Emma that I was quite difficult to converse with. I haven’t an open nature, and he found himself wishing he was listening instead to talkative Miss Bates discuss her mother’s shawl and eyeglasses. :) I do like Mr. Knightley, but I can’t imagine him liking me! I suppose that’s why I’m married to a man who talks a lot. I don’t have to.
Restlessly the Rat wandered off once more, climbed the slope that rose gently from the north bank of the river, and lay looking out towards the great ring of Downs that barred his vision further southwards–his simple horizon hitherto, his Mountains of the Moon, his limit behind which lay nothing he had cared to see or to know. Today, to him gazing south with new-born need stirring in his heart, the clear sky over their long low outline seemed to pulsate with promise; today, the unseen was everything, the unknown the only real fact of life. On this side of the hills was now the real blank, on the other lay the crowded and coloured panorama that his inner eye was seeing so clearly.
— from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, 1908
It comforts me to know that Rat, simple and steadfast Water Rat, has this moment of restlessness. Even Rat, who loves his river home and is a most practical animal in this book, can have days where the unseen is everything and the present situation is blank.
Today was a day for sitting around and reading books to make the time go faster. We were homebound with the snow falling sideways outdoors. I certainly wasn’t wanting to be out in the weather, but I was wanting out. Somewhere in the future, I suppose, or to some alternate life. Perhaps a life where we sometimes go on vacations. It wasn’t a real clear vision. It was more a stirring of the heart. This could be discontent. I’ve been rather down on myself today, so it probably is discontent, one more sin added on to everything else bad I’ve thought. Or it could be the way God leads us forward. With those desires and wishes. Why is it so difficult to figure out what is good and what is wrong?
I’m not going to pull a quote from this book because my quotes would all be too long and really you ought to read the whole thing, not just a small part of it. It’s called Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro, 2009. Characterization, and not the music involved, plays the beautiful notes in this book. Famous singers, wives of famous singers, fans of famous singers pretending they don’t listen to their favorite music anymore, musicians playing where they can get a job, traveling musicians, jobless song-writers, a virtuoso or two, an ugly saxophone player who gets plastic surgery to boost his career: these are the characters in these stories. The dialogue shines, the plots run on hilarious lines, and the endings stop in tasteful places. I thank the librarian who put this book on the display this month. I look forward to reading more by this author.
Grant Wood’s rural landscapes have been rolling through my own imagination longer and more powerfully than I realize. When considering colleges, an art professor in a prospective college sent me a postcard with a Grant Wood landscape on it. The anthology of stories we read in my first college Creative Writing course pictured an eerie, rolling Grant Wood painting of a hearse on a road shadowed by a cross-shaped telephone pole. Back then, I didn’t care so much about who painted what, or even who wrote what. I liked pictures. I liked stories. I didn’t have loyalties yet. Funny how relationships with particular artists and authors grow on you. Grant Wood is not someone I consider a favorite, or even someone I’m particularly familiar with. But somewhere in his round trees and swelling fields, his winding roads and curving fencelines, I belong, quite like his farm buildings all belong in his landscapes. This is no wilderness. This is farmed land, cultivated, grown, loved, and utilized. This is land where people exist and make the most of every hill and hollow. I’m not a stranger here, and maybe that’s why I am comforted by Grant Wood’s landscapes. Maybe it is also a bigger picture of why I return to the plowed and planted lands of great art and great literature. A good harvest seems likely.
Early one morning in May I set out,
And nobody I knew was about.
I’m bound away for ever,
Away somewhere, away for ever.
There was no wind to trouble the weathercocks.
I had burnt my letters and darned my socks.
No one knew I was going away,
I thought myself I should come back some day.
I heard the brook through the town gardens run.
O sweet was the mud turned to dust by the sun.
A gate banged in a fence and banged in my head.
‘A fine morning, sir’, a shepherd said.
I could not return from my liberty,
To my youth and my love and my misery.
The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet,
The only sweet thing that is not also fleet.
I’m bound away for ever,
Away somewhere, away for ever.
— Edward Thomas (1878-1917)
I read a few of Thomas’ poems this month. He is an English poet, and an influence on Robert Frost. I like his poems for their simplicity, their quiet wisdom, and the way the end of the poem often brings in meaning to the previous lines. In this poem, I love the line, “The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet/” It speaks for itself, but it also turns the speaker’s little story into the reader’s big story. We are all set out, never to return, bound away forever somewhere.
I like to spend some time reading other blogs about homeschools. I follow a few, and I sometimes just explore the homeschool tag on wordpress. Some are encouraging, some discouraging. This winter I’ve been feeling a little anti-Charlotte Mason, which seems like such a naughty thing to say because CMers are loyal to Miss Mason. When one of the CM blogs posted Charlotte Mason’s poems every few days, I sighed and said, “So she wrote poetry, too. Sheesh. Wasn’t writing six large volumes of educational philosophies enough?” I’m not anti-CM education. I still think it is wise. I’m just tired of hearing about Charlotte herself. I’ll get over it, hopefully before my next CM Book Study meeting.
The other blogs that tend to discourage me are the ones written by moms with super-organizational skills. The ones who make their schedules and then write posts called, “How to schedule your homeschool for a month.” The ones who create all sorts of worksheets for their children and then sell them as downloads on their money-earning blogs. I only download the free ones. And only if they look useful and not just cute. I suppose I am happy they are out there. Where else would I have found our ever-popular alphabet bingo game?
The blogs that encourage me the most tend to be written by unschoolers, or relaxed homeschoolers, or delight-directed homeschoolers. These are the ones with a gentle vision, a long vision, and often a godly vision. They also tend to take lots of nice nature-study photos. I am inspired to go out on a nature walk and find as many different dried plants as we can (preferably when the temperature rises above 10 degrees Fahrenheit). I am also inspired to drive to the beach we enjoyed so much in the summer and see what it is like now. I am encouraged to forget math for a day, forget the whole house for a day, and spend time elsewhere. I am encouraged to get out the art supplies and work on a big project that will be messy and time-consuming and will have to be hung somewhere when it’s done. I am encouraged to make Bible time as pleasant and memorable a time as I can for my children because I want them to love the Bible. I am also encouraged to stick with the schedules and routines that do work well for us.
When all is said and done, I still have plenty of courage to continue homeschooling. And I still count it a blessing to read the posts of so many parents going through similar but different learning times of their own.