By Kimberly Gerry-Tucker
Ever hear a voice and it reminds you of someone else’s voice? Someone long departed or otherwise gone from your life? You don’t realize it, it’s an involuntary thing, but when people speak… And in particular when that voice is familiar and heard often- their voice imprints on you; not unlike fossil indents on rock. Sometimes my sons speak and I am reminded of their uncle; not in the context of their words; not at all- but rather the timbre of their voice is similar and I am at once in the present and also in the past. Sometimes too, I hear a certain turn of phrase and am catapulted to a memory of a character from a book.
Why can’t I just read… all the time? Heaps of unswept dog hair, unwashed laundry piles, and a spring yard in need of grooming…all this and more would loom like laughing spectres (we are overthrowing the household!); that’s why I can’t read all the time. My son and I were discussing how we share a love of learning. So much we’ll never know of the world, even if we learned a fact per second all our lives. I recently learned that sloths poop once a week and
elephants (notably African and Asian) stay pregnant for nearly two years!
Why hadn’t I already learned that by now, or is it a fact I’d forgotten? Having had three children, I realize that I’ve spent over two years of my life pregnant, myself. Anyway the thought of a single elephant gestation period that is nearly two years long is remarkable; but then I’d always known elephants are special. They are very loyal and protective to family and friends. In fact my son’s friend buys me an elephant every year. Sometimes they’re plastic, sometimes glass. My favorite: an elephant plant pot.
Through reading, I’ve also picked up sayings that just…stay with me. Sayings like this one:
“You self-flagellating hairshirt!”
I think that line came from a memoir. I always learn something from memoirs that I didn’t know before, whether it’s culture customs, personality quirks and conditions or insights into other psyches. It feels like anthropology. Picking brains. . I especially like authors’ and artists’ life stories. There are times in fact, when I find an author’s life (what inspired and drove them) more interesting than their written works. Joyce Carol Oates is one example, as is Eudora Welty. Two very different upbringings, two talented women with unique-unto-themselves writing styles but I don’t necessarily like their fiction. I respect them both. And I almost feel I have a glimpse of who they are/were as people. As people with their own unique realities and fears. I share many differences with them and similarities too. I never had a pet chicken like Joyce, but I appreciate her family dynamic and can relate to some of it.
But what happens when you read book after book after book and after a while you realize you just don’t identify with ANY of the characters you’re reading about?
FromCBS News, “ When we actually got into the classroom, the books were just mainly about white boys and dogs,” said 11 yr. old Marley Dias, who finds reading material for African American girls like herself, sadly lacking.
Marley was named after Bob Marley; her Mom is Jamaican. Marley’s mission (her calling?) is to amass books with characters like herself, and it went viral. She’s already donated over 1,000 books to a Jamaican charity and more and more books are just piling in. Those who would like to donate books to Marley Dias’s drive can sent them to:
59 Main Street
West Orange, NJ 07052
I remember using AOL back then and having a message POP UP suddenly from an unknown guy by the moniker “Diaper Guy.” I learned right away the dangers of the web when he kept “popping up” and BEGGING me to ‘change his diaper.’ Yikes, how would I have handled that as a child? And here’s Marley Dias, using the web for the good it can do. The reality is, she’s not afraid to do something about her experience with the underwhelming selection of books she’s found to date that she can truly identify with. It’s very freeing to act on an idea and then accomplish a goal.One thing I DID have growing up was books, and I did identify with a lot of them, which I suppose is the point. I remember my childhood favorites: “Harriet The Spy,” (I went around with my own secret notebook, studying details and logging mysteries) and “Meg,” (I won this book as a prize for flying the highest kite in a Girl Scout event and Meg, the main character and the mysteries she found in hidden crannies of an old house had me reading till the early morning hours).
I still am able to read at least a book a week, with little monetary investment thanks to a thrift shop with second-hand books nearby and of course my local library. I believe old books are treated with… magnesium oxide? Is that the smell distinctive to libraries? Or, as I like to think, do libraries have familiar woodsy smells because of the felled trees that became so much paper? It has never escaped my awareness, when I am fully engrossed in a book, taken to another place in my head, the words that are imprinted on more than mere paper. This paper was once a living thing. Where did the tree reside whose destiny was to have these particular words forever imprinted upon it? (In this way, books are like brains and souls.) Is it any wonder that libraries smell like paths in the forest?Anyway, perusing dim aisles, (no plush armchairs and coffee bars like Barnes and Noble) I spotted a Wally Lamb book (silly me, I’d thought I already read ALL of his books). So I withdrew the book. Lamb tends to give quite detailed histories of his characters, often having more than one “main” character and after a while this becomes addictive reading. To my surprise, one of the main characters in We Are Water is an “outsider artist.” She struggles with art show-related qualms. I didn’t know the topic when I picked up the book but I was pleasantly transported to a world I recognized. It got me to thinking about this old book from my childhood which inspired the painting I sold in an art show a few years ago. It ended up going into a new baby’s nursery.
I didn’t know while I was painting this, what inspired me to paint a girl swinging and now I recall that one book I used to love from my school’s library. I went to an old brick school with radiator lined classrooms and a tiny library hidden away in a pastel blue windowless room just off the auditorium. The library had a long formica table with lamps. We’d grab a book and then sit in front of a lamp, pull the drawstring to turn on the lamp, and read until the buzzer sounded. I’ve searched for this book online to no avail and so when I painted this, it is my memory of the enjoyment of that book.
I knew the girl’s pigtails shot out when she pumped her legs on the swing, suspended there in midair on the cover of the book. I knew the book word for word, all the places on the pages that were torn and repaired with yellowed tape. If, on the rare occasion (during our class’s ‘library time,’) that if someone else grabbed MY book with the girl swinging on the front cover, I’d grab my go-to second choice: “Customs of The Japanese People.” What was the name of the book with the girl swinging? Story of O? It would help to remember the name so I can look it up, but it escapes me. It’s not such a terrific painting of the girl on the swing that I’ve painted. It’s as I said before that sometimes the story about the inspiration behind the art is sometimes more interesting than the work itself…
In the Lamb book I’m reading, it is like serendipity: one of the characters has the last name: “Oh.” This is what got me to thinking about the cover of that long ago child’s book, how I’d loved that little girl’s freedom. I think her name began with ‘O’ or her nickname was ‘O.’ Her swinging. No fear.
Lately, I’ve been drawn toward what I call “Goddess paintings.” I’m doing a series of these, and I have at least ten going at the same time. Here are a few, finished and unfinished.
I’ll close this with my trip to the mall. I had my granddaughter with me. We’d eaten fast food, ridden a carousel, and made a “build-a-bear” when she spotted the Easter Bunny; seated in bow-tied splendor on a comfy couch. We approached the counter and inquired about the cost for a 4 yr. old to get a picture done with the rabbit. $30.00?!! As we started to walk away, the young lady at the counter (who bore such a strong resemblance to my younger self we could’ve been related) said, “but you can let her go say Hi to the Easter Bunny.”
The young woman then “looked the other way” as I proceeded to take cell phone pictures (for free) of Lexie and the Rabbit. I didn’t thank her aloud but I met her gaze briefly. She turned away, pretending not to see all the picture taking.
Small kindnesses are like the familiarity of voices I mentioned earlier. They imprint. They are reminders that there is a continuum we all share: just like the nuances of some voices, that echo with inherited cadence from other generations. So too, kindnesses perpetuated; learned somewhere involuntarily and passed from one to another.
My family as a rule doesn’t care much for Easter.
I don’t know why that is.
The world can seem confined. Ordinary and small. Then you remind yourself of high mountains and deep oceans and you are at once a part of earth’s timbre. In Nepal, people are dining at a YacDonalds (yes that’s a real place) and somewhere scientists are picking up strange sounds from one of the deepest parts of the ocean: the Marianna’s Trench. Somewhere in a far off place, colorful kata prayer flags are hung and ripple in breezes. I put my mind there a lot. In our smaller worlds and orbits, we each have our own stories and truths. Every ‘small’ gesture of kindness carries it’s own power- chipping away dents in big walls.
This moment stretched out five full minutes. Note: no words exchanged at all between Lexie and the rabbit, nor between me and the young woman who knew I didn’t have thirty extra dollars. But then- no words were needed.
Kimberly Gerry-Tucker is an artist, QA tester, and writer. She is the author of Under The Banana Moon, living, loving, loss and aspergers/selective mutism. She resides in Connecticut with her pets and significant other Al and serves on the board for Art of Autism.