Tag Archives: art

Thoughts About 21 Grams, and I Don’t Mean the Movie.

My dear border collie’s body had been cold less than 30 hours when a friend and I went to an art exhibit by faculty members of Virginia Wesleyan College. My friend, a specialist in digital photography manipulation, was one of these artists.

On display were photographic images etched into stainless steel; large glass animal figurines, both whimsical and dark; small houses made of a medium unknown to me but washed with color and adorned with strips of what appeared to be bamboo or wood; photographic mélanges narrative in nature; and more.

What really grabbed my attention were objects on three rectangular tables that ran down the center of the gallery. They held an array of various shaped pieces, arranged in groups or alone, all, made of clear glass. Several reminded me of bacteria I’ve seen under a high-powered microscope. Another suggested gray matter, but my favorite series looked like artfully arranged bottoms of hand-blown bottles spit out by the sea. All of these pieces contained what looked to be sand.

But it wasn’t. It was the ashes of the artist’s dead dog.

I learned this from my friend who read aloud the statement by glass artist, Charlotte Potter. I would have read it myself if I had not been caught up in the ethereal beauty of the objects that lay before me. Or if I had know that I would fall asleep later that night and wake the next morning thinking of this exhibit titled, “Cellular Reliquary,” wanting to write about it. Why didn’t I pull out my cell and snap a photo or two? Why did it take me so long to understand the glass shapes symbolized parts of a cell and a dog’s body?



Maybe I should have been freaked out or feeling guilty that for the first time in my adult life I did not save my pet’s body or ashes and lay them somewhere special. When my Australian shepherd died three years or so ago, I kept her remains in a tin on top of the microwave because she loved food. I moved them when we renovated out kitchen, Now, I have no idea where they are. Because of that, I did not ask for the return of dear Gracie’s ashes, which would have required me to find a large dead fish on the beach on which to sprinkle them.

The artist’s dog weighed just over 84 pounds, which provides a good amount of ash and bone chips with which to work. With that in mind, the total weight of her exhibit equals the weight of her dog less the weight of the soul, a human one, which in 1907 was determined to be 21 grams or .74 ounces. Since then a number of scientists and physicians have debunked this, citing there were too many variables regarding the weight and quibbling about whether a soul is energy or mass or hocus-pocus.

I will not confuse you with all I’ve read about dark plasma, electron accelerators, how energy can become mass and subject to the laws of gravity, the science of Noetics, etc.

Just know that like any good art will do, this exhibit by Charlotte Potter send me searching for more information. Even though most of it has been contradictory, the possibility that a soul has weight comforts me, and the artist’s creative way of memorializing her dog continues to awe me.

And I hate to admit it, but I’ve taken to looking at my remaining two dogs and one cat as potential works of art.

Potter’s work and others’ will be on display in the Hofheimer Library at VWC until Oct. 5, 2013. If you would like to see her work online, go to http://www.charlottepotter.com/Artist.asp?ArtistID=29721&Akey=Y44GHA99.

Cooley & Rose update: The Goodreads.com giveaway has ended. Three copies of Cooley & Rose are on their way to readers in Connecticut, Florida and Colorado.

Nine books clubs that I know of have chosen to read Cooley & Rose. One of these is a couples reading club. That should be an interesting conversation.

More Snaps From Mary’s Gone Wild

Several readers asked to see more photos from Mary’s Gone Wild which I wrote about last time. Here are four. I hope you enjoy them.

The outside of another house she built from recycled  wood and bottles

The outside of another house she built from recycled wood and bottles

Inside each bottle house is more of Mary's art -- painted glass and furniture.

Inside each bottle house is more of Mary’s art — painted glass and furniture.

Mary's boat made from donated bottles

Mary’s boat made from donated bottles

Mary's studio.  The red building in the background is the Coca Cola House.

Mary’s studio. The red building in the background is the Coca Cola House.

How to Make a Story: A Recipe That Calls for an Obituary and Curiosity

DSCN0115Last Saturday a friend of twenty years, asked if the stories I have written for this blog are true. They are.  Because I have the kind of big blended family and unusual ancestry that represents the diversity of the United States, I have a deep well from which to draw.  If I ever write fiction here or tell a story other than my own or create an imagined ending for one that started as truth, you’ll know.

But back to last Saturday.  Her question led to a discussion about when we became interested in stories and how differently our minds work in creating them.  L. is a talented short story and non-fiction writer.  Maybe in the future she’ll offer her thoughts in a guest post here.

But today I’m going to tell you how my mind started shaping stories because it might lead those of you who believe you’re not creative enough to come up with a song lyric, a short story, a novel or a narrative painting to think again.

When I was a kid learning to read, I preferred the newspaper to school primers.  Every day I studied three sections of The Virginian-Pilot:  the comics, Ann Landers and the obituaries.

My affinity for the obituaries started when I was young and still small enough to sit on my maternal grandmother’s lap as she read some of them to me.   In my adult mind, it seems that everyday she knew at least one name that appeared on that page.  After she read the notice, she would elaborate with what she knew or heard of that person.  She never spoke ill of the dead.  She did, however, list trials and tribulations not included in the bio.  A run-away husband. Bouts of diverticulitis. A stillborn child. A face burned by an exploding cook stove. A loved one killed in the Great War.  Back then I might not have understood the specifics of these revelations, but I sensed that they mattered.

All of this fascinated me so much more interesting than the See-Spot-Run books my brother read in first grade.  Although I didn’t know the language to use, I understood how obituaries, especially the way my grandmother presented them, held more plot and deeper characterizations.

Every so often – let’s say two months because a kid does not have a good concept of time unless he’s being sent to bed – my grandmother would gasp upon seeing certain names.  “Oh,” she would cry, “Freddie Rogers died.”  She would shake her head, “He loved me so!” before telling me how handsome he was. Or she would exclaim, “Jimmy Murphy!  He wanted to marry me, but my mother didn’t like him.”  I liked to imagine these boys hanging around my grandmother, begging for her attention, adoring her the way I did.

Months turned into years, and still my grandmother would spot the name of a former love, and it appeared she had more boyfriends than Elizabeth Taylor or Marilyn Monroe could ever expect to have.  It seemed a bit much for a woman so devoted to God and her evangelical faith and the radio sermons of Ernest Amsley.

Finally, I said, “Grandma!  How could you have so many boyfriends?  You got married at fourteen.”  She pursed her lips, closed her eyes and smiled.

So you can see why my fondness for obits continued long after I was too old to sit on her lap, on past her dying at age 83 and still remains with me today.

As a writer, I see every obituary as a story in need of details.  If I read of a man who is survived by eight children, all scattered across the country, I wonder why not even one child stayed at home.  Where they all trying to escape horrors of poverty and abuse? What regrets did he carry to his death?

Or a woman doctor who died at 90, never married, and spent her life doing medical research? What kind of family did she come from that encouraged her studies in an age when homemaking was the usual career of choice?  And how did her family make or inherit so much money that they could afford to buy so many years of education?  Had she ever been in love?  Had a broken heart?  Did she live with a lover?  Or a house full of cats?  There are always so many questions to ask, blanks to fill in.

Of course, it’s impossible to know the full story of anyone’s life, even those loved ones you know better than anyone else. But it is possible to take the clues offered in an obituary and make it a story of your own.

Go on.  Try it. You’ll see.