Monday, April 27, 2009

Jury Duty

Heading for possible jury duty today. The creative will be limited to knitting the scarf I have been working on for months! I have never served on a jury. The closest I came was to be questioned for the 13th seat, alternative. But having lived in Synanon, believing in rehab, not in favor of death penalties, loosing two family members to murder, knowing people who died because of drunk drivers, some where along the line I wasn't considered to be objective s0 I have been excused. But I have never been asked to U.S. District Court before so this is a new adventure.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My house is the yellow one.

Morning after, fireman keeping contained as fire burns itself out.


More on fire.

Yesterday in setting up the swamp cooler we found a burned hole in the cover. One more sign of how we lucked out the night of the fire. Those who watered our roof probably put out a fire they didn't even know had started.

We heard the insurance company is holding off cleaning up the mess next door until the investigation is complete. Once in a while I can smell the ashes. 

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Book and Murder

I am reading the book "In My Fathers House," by Mark Arax. When Mark was 15 his father was murdered by two hit men in the bar that was the dad's business. The murder was never solved. Over the years Mark's need to find the murderer's grew until finally he took leave of his reporter job at the LA Times, and moved back to Fresno with wife and two year old child. 

Reading the book is interesting, just Mark's story alone, keeps me turning pages. But there is so much that taps into my life experience that I am totally captivated.

Many years back when I lived in Badger, Synanon, we took in a bunch of teenage boys from Fresno. The courts sent them to us. These boys were the most damaged children I had ever worked with. I had in the past worked at a home for delinquent teens in San Diego. They were mild compared to this crew. 

These boys had no sense of morality. They had almost no emotional affect, except rage which took very little to provoke. I remember daily feeling astonished, trying to figure out how kids turned into these robots? Did who ever have them decide, I am going to ruin a human life and then proceed to spend all their energy hurting these kids physically and emotionally? I have worked with many kids over the years who were abused and had very bad situations, but even then they had a survival instinct that carried their humanity forward until a better opportunity appeared, which they took full advantage of. These boys didn't seem to have the capability of pulling themselves out of the stone walls they put themselves behind. Prison was the only future I could see for them, and it depressed me to no end. 

After reading Mark's take on Fresno during those years, being run by a bunch of crooks, I could see a connection between the "lost" boys as I thought of them, and the environment they grew up in. The drug trade ruled and if you lived in poverty forget it. From the top officials, including police, to many Ag giants who used their air fields for crop dusting planes as a way to import drugs, to more than likely their parents on the bottom of the rung, these kids saw nothing but hypocrisy and grew into cynical excuses for human beings. I haven't finished the book so I don't know where all of this leads, but an ah-ha moment occurred, a possible answer came to me about how these youngsters were so ruined. Sad.

Another connection that disturbs me is that we have had two family members murdered. My husband's brother was shot and killed on the streets of Philadelphia. We never knew why, except he was a drug user and lived mostly on the streets, so probably was drug related.

My nephew was shot and killed on the street where I lived as a pre-teen. The family lore is that a policeman was behind the killing, although a 16 year old actually pulled the trigger and was jailed. 

My nephew was in gangs during his teen years. He went to jail and was released at age 21. I had worked with him a few days on my parents house, a first where he and I spent time alone. He told me that in prison he had time to read. He began to realize he had choices even back then. He didn't have to choose gangs. He had always had choices. 

And now he was deciding what to do with the rest of his life. He sees his gang friends with gold dripping off them, girls on each arm, pockets thick with cash, and fancy cars. 

He was on parole, many limit's to his life. He could drive to his $5.00 hour job helping at-risk kids at a center, and drive straight home, no stops in-between. He wasn't allowed in the old neighborhood. And many other rules. He didn't make enough to pay rent so he had to live with his friend, a girl he was dating, but if he had a choice would not be living with her. He didn't tell me she was pregnant. That we didn't find out until he died. A month later his son was born, and has been a blessing ever since.

A story he told me was about two policemen: one who stops him regularly to see how he is, to ask if he needs anything, and who warned him to stay clean, especially since there was another policeman who was out to get him, and for my nephew to watch his step. The good policeman encouraged his working at the center.

The second policeman also stopped him, roughed him up, pushed him against the car, searched him, threatened him, and in general abused his power. Why this was happening I wasn't told. He just hinted that the cop was dirty, and was trying to keep my nephew in line, under his control, not to help my nephew.

When it came out that the Los Angeles Ramparts Police station was investigated and found to have abusive, dirty, dishonest cops who had gotten away with murder even, it became the opinion of many in my family that the abusive cop had something to do with my nephew's murder. Because my sister did not want to sit in court to watch the shooter's trial, nor did she want to pursue anything about her son's murder we all backed off in attempts to push the idea that we find justice for our nephew. I believed we were helping my sister in her efforts to move on in her life. Loosing her son caused a damage she has never overcome, and I doubt ever will, but she was able to marry a wonderful man, and have some semblance of sanity most of the time, and a good life with her grandson. 

In reading Mark's story though, it occurs to me that maybe we were mistaken and that had we pursued the truth, maybe her life wouldn't be as hard as it is to keep balanced. Every now and again I feel a knot in my stomach when I think of that policeman getting a way with murder, if he in fact had anything to do with it. I read the reports of the investigation of Ramparts and it seems many policemen were held accountable to wrong actions, and I hoped he was amongst them. I felt satisfied that it didn't have to be our exact detail. They did so much harm that if any of it was brought to light, I felt satisfied justice was done. 

But as I read about Mark's compulsion to find answers I question why we had none. Why I am so willing to let it go since we cannot change the outcome even if the guilty party is found. I do believe that on some level. And yet, there is a nagging doubt that makes me feel like a coward. A lot to think about.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Twitter, Photoshop, Clay and Fire

Learning technology is a challenge. The latest is Photoshop and Twitter. The amazing part of the process is how long it takes, how many failures I must experience before that ah-ha moment when I realize how easy the procedure truly is. 

Elsah Cort, the organizer of the Three Rivers Artist's Studio Tour, wants the artists to join Twitter. Being that Twitter is the latest rage in communication, or so the NYT's said, she thought it might help us do a little marketing for the upcoming tour March 19, 20, 21, 2010. So far a handful of the artists have jumped on board. How it will play out is hard to tell. But for me, it has pushed using this blog since there is a way to link from Twitter to here. 

I had started with Facebook since a few friends included me, and especially when I realized our daughter Delia using it, I jumped at the chance. Uploading images is easy and the way Facebook is organized captured me. Twitter, 140 words an entry, whereas Facebook you can write more. But Twitter has a link capability that I haven't figured out on Facebook, yet.  

The photographs now have the Haiku on them. I will mat them today, wrap them in protective sleeves and put on the bulletin board. It will give a chance to look at them for a while, to see if I like the result.

Last Monday I glazed the two masks and one coil pot that is in this batch of firing. All three survived bisque firing. The only crack was a very slight one on one of the masks. 

There is a rule we joke about at the workshop, "Don't fall in love with a piece until it makes it through the final firing. Anything can happen." Well, I do love the two masks I made this time. One is porcelain with colored slip that I put transparent glaze on the colored part, and the half that had the sliver of a crack. The other is more plaque than a mask, a sun/moon combination out of black mountain clay with colored slips that also have transparent glaze applied only on the slips. Both are beautiful pieces. It is a joke in the workshop that I do ugly really well, because  many of the masks I do are primitive. I still sell them to my amazement, but every now and again I do a mask that is really beautiful, and both these masks fit the bill. They have one more firing to get through. 

What could happen? The glaze instead of being clear like I want could be tainted with chemicals from other colored glazes on other pieces in the firing. Someone's could blow up, or mine could, if an air bubble is in the clay. They could stretch in the firing because it is so hot, and crack in ways that ruin it. Sometimes the cracks are a blessing. I sold one that the woman said, "It gives the face character." So to fall in love with your piece before it is done sets you up for huge disappointment! But I cannot help it this time. I really love these two masks and I hope they do fine in the firing.

Marn was over yesterday to see the mural Nadi Spencer finished for us the day before. The shed wall is empty of masks. "Where are they all?" Marn asked. "I sold them. That's all that's left," I said. "You'd better get busy and do more than one mask a week!" She's right. I look at the schedule of shows coming up, and the studio tour, in the next 6 months and I need more masks to sell. This is a great problem to think about. Do I bring clay home to work? Or go to the workshop an extra day? 

The stars are back and so is good sleep. Both Bruce and I slept the whole night in peace, a first since the fire. The trauma of opening eyes in the dark to find a raging fire next door that threatened lives and property shook us to our very souls. But as the week progressed the reality that no one was hurt, that no homes were burned, that because of firemen and neighbors and spring green of grass, trees and bushes it wasn't as devastating as it could have been. The neighbors did loose the tools of their trades, he construction, she a gourd artist, which is bad enough. 

The barn that burnt down blocked the stars from our bedroom window. Now I can see the hillside covered in oak trees. And since the neighbors were moving shortly anyway, I am not sorry the barn is gone. The moon has been with us this week, and when it disappears the stars will fill the window like they did when we first moved in.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Change is in the Wind

For years, I have awakened before dawn to write. I scratch black ink on white paper with a special fountain pen. The only rule, keep pen moving. In a half dream state I write, starting with the mundane of yesterday. Layers unfold. I find my own mind. I started this after 20 years of living in Synanon, as a wife, to living alone in one room. It was an avenue to explore where I had been, where I was now, and what kind of future to design. It served me well. 

Change is in the wind. I am now an artist. I work in clay, creating masks. Not sure why I obsess with faces, but I don't question, just make them. I do less writing than I used to. The first draft of the memoir has been waiting to be attended to. Does it need a rewrite or is it ready to be sent out? I do not know. But it calls me. And the Ink Quilts, an art form I invented, one for every chapter of the memoir, to be completed. They illustrate in collages of images, drawings, and "ink" quilting, instead of cloth and threads. 

Digital photography is my new play, learning how to take pictures, how to use photoshop, iPhoto, etc. Almost immediately I won awards for images. My husband pointed out that maybe I have found the art form, the awards an indication, when in writing rejection letters fill the files. Maybe he is right, maybe, not. I follow my heart, and it is taking me back to the memoir. Not enough time in each day to explore all that draws me.

I have had this blog for a while, only occasionally writing in it. Added photographs to it, but really hadn't figured out how to incorporate it in my day. Then along came Twitter. The Three Rivers Artist Studio Tour #9, 2010, had begun the preparation process. It was suggested we Twitter our art process. In learning how to get onto Twitter I discovered it could be connected to this blog site. The 140 words are not enough for me. Some of what I read on the site is a little self absorbed, at least the first impression, more like teens using cell phones to touch base. But I noticed fellow artist, Jana Botkins trail from Twitter to her blog, journaling about a mural project she is in the middle of , an Ah-ha, moment. 

So, I decided to start in my journaling on paper to get the boring stuff moving, but once I tap into what really matters I will move to this blog and finish the journaling process here. In Twitter I'll write the topic and tie it to the blog, to see where it all leads. Every time I take on a new learning process the excitement builds. 

Today I will finish framing the Yokohl Valley Rock Art images. Then I will notify Dick Burns, the photographer, to show him the five images. He wants to approve the quality and to be assured that they came from Yokohl Valley. Then once he approves, I will call Ken Woodward, the representative of the local Indian Tribes, to tell him Dick approved, and to make sure Ken makes clear to the Elders that I have no intention of selling the pieces in The Yokohl Valley Art Show in July, at Arts Visalia. The Indians are tired of everyone making a profit off their contributions except them, which I appreciate. 

I want to donate the pictures to La Sierra High School in Porterville, and I think Ken and the Elders will like this idea. Some of the students who flow through the school come from the reservation nearby and I think it is an appropriate place for these beautiful images to hang. Other kids come from South, Central America and Mexico, have Indian heritage, too, and might find them interesting. 

These photographs will be added to the many original art pieces we, and our artist friends, have donated to make the environment beautiful for the students attending the school. It looks more like an art gallery, than a school, something Bruce and I are really proud of.

The show in July is part of a process to stop Yokohl Valley from being developed as planned by the Boswell Corporation. The valley is over the hill from where I live, maybe ten miles as the crow flies. Mostly cattle ranchers own the land, except that which Boswell bought up over the years. He, too, used it for cattle grazing, but is in the process of turning his property into another Sun City, or Chula Vista, wall to wall suburbs, shopping area, gas station, golf course, etc. Housing for 10,000, and a vacation spot for up to 29,000 in total. Since no affordable housing will be available for lower income people, all who do the landscape work, housekeepers, gas station attendants, etc, will have to drive from quite a long ways from their homes to work there, thus more traffic on the roads, etc. And the most serious issue, water, is barely addressed when you ask questions of the planning commission who is giving permission for this endeavor. There are questions as to how the water will last for the existing people in our county since the water table lowers every year. We use more than Mother Nature can replenish and have for years. It is catching up with us. 

The Boswell project, I suspect, is on hold because the economy has tanked and who would be able to buy houses right now? Mr. Boswell died last week, so that might slow things down. His son is running the company, and I don't know how in control he has been with this whole idea. 

There is a push to try to get the Planning Commission to set a standard to build within, and around the existing cities in Tulare County and to leave the open spaces alone as much as possible. We certainly have enough small cities. But how to deal with the Private Property issue, "It's mine to do what I want," which is the majority view in this county. We haven't been known for looking at the whole of the county and planning ahead for growth in sustainable ways. It's mostly been who has the most money to influence that determines where we go. Boswell is a perfect example. He figured out ways to influence state and government to allow him to get as large as he wanted, even though the law of the land was to help keep farms in our country 160 acres at the largest, starting back with President Lincoln, who thought if we kept farming in smaller increments it would always be an avenue for poorer people to make a living, to feed their families and live on the land. The law was never really enforced thus Boswell, and many others, were able to grow enormous. I do admire the creative ways in which his workers improved and invented. But they also created situations that worsen our lot. Poisoned waters, interruption to wildlife, hampering diversity of people and agriculture (per "King of California," the book about Boswell's empire), and many other problems. Do I think we will stop the Boswell's? Not really.  But I never thought a man who looks like my sons would be President of the United States in my lifetime, so "hope springs eternal," as Emerson said.

Cloudy, gray, and cold day. More rain? Hope so.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Last Saturday I was in bed before 9, reading with husband, friend in guest room, her door closed. Bruce turned out his light but I continued to read for a few minutes. Then I turned out the lights. I closed my eyes and for some reason opened them again in the darkened room. The color orange filled the picture frame on the wall opposite. I thought, "Natasha must be doing something with lights?" But her door was closed. Then fear seared through me and I turned to the window behind. The barn was filled with fire.

"Bruce and Natasha, up. There is a fire," I yelled. I jumped out of bed and headed to the phone in the living room and called 911. She transferred me to the Fire Dept. I rushed outside to find Bruce and Natasha grabbing hoses to wet down the fence, bushes and the edge of our house. We are about 20 yards from the two story barn, a container, a wooden fence and plants between us. The fire was three stories high, reaching out of the skylights that had burst. Explosions filled the air, pop, pop, like gun shots. That's when I insisted we move the cars. Bruce grabbed his beloved bike, I grabbed the metal box with our legal papers, Natasha had her backpack, grabbed my camera and insisted I take more. I looked at her and realized I really didn't care about anything but Bruce's safety and hers. The rest could be replaced over time, but my friends could not. So we drove the cars down to a neighbors. 

It took the fire department 20 minutes for the first truck to arrive. We live in the boonies, and many small town fire departments must respond from long distances, and mostly volunteers fight our fires, so I was later told by a retired fireman, in the country 20 minutes is good timing. If you want faster, move to the city. A water loaded fire truck cannot go faster than 40 mph up a hill, something I never thought of before. Once they arrived they obviously knew what they were doing, making up for lost time, protecting the closest house,  the barn owners and mine, and the above hillsides of grass that would lead to more homes, and contained the fire. Some where in that 20 minutes the roof caved in, the noise terrifying, sparks flying, threatening the houses below. When I next looked at a clock it was 9:42 and seven fire trucks (2 small, 5 bigger) were every where, on the upper road, two or three on the property, and the rest on the road, lining up to bring in more water, then spraying their load, then heading back down to fill up at the hydrant about a block away, returning to line up.

I heard the firemen discuss water, a very big issue for our foothills community. Those of us using water hoses to spray nearby buildings had less pressure because we were all using the water at the same time. They used water to keep the fire in the center of the cement platform the barn was built on, and decided to let it burn out on its own. Someone watched all night, and into the next day to make sure it was truly out.

When night descends fear returns. When the sun appears the fear disappears. I guess that will go away with time. I am so grateful to the folks who appeared to help us all. I've never met some of the people before. I said out loud I need to call my son and a cell phone was put in my hand. I was too shaky to dial so she dialed as I said his number. Who was she? The man appeared and watered down our house. Thank you.

I am not sure, but I think I was the first to see the fire and call 911, close to 9. I had already called when the owners screamed behind a wall of bamboo, "Bruce and Shirley, fire." Bruce said, "Yes, we know and we called 911 already." Had we waited ten more minutes I'd be writing this from my sons house, probably living in a camping trailer, if we were lucky enough to wake up before our house went up totally in flames. The barn didn't take but minutes to fall down, so I suspect our small wooden house would take less. When others told me they called 911, it was busy, so many called at once, I figure around 9:20.

When the barn was built it stole our view of the hillsides filled with oaks, and the stars that filled the night skies. We were so disappointed since it was the stars that pulled us into Three Rivers. That is all back now. I am filled with joy at this view from my window, and sad that such beauty came at such a dangerous price. So many helped to save our community because so much was at risk. As Natasha said,  "It was a good fire drill. The grass is still green. We were lucky."

I do plan to make discs of my favorite photos, and writings and stick them in the metal box. It was foolish to think I wouldn't care down the road for the creative work I have done over the years. My neighbor is a gourd artist. She lost it all in the fire. I put myself in her place and know I must prepare better if there is a next time. Emergencies happen. And its silly to pretend they don't.

Twitter and Art

We are beginning the process to prepare for the Three Rivers Artist's Studio Tour #9, March of 2010. One of the suggestions is to Twitter, logging your artistic process along the way, thought to be another way to market our event. So I am in the learning process of how this blog and twitter connects. Will I have time to do both? I write every morning in a journal, scratching black ink on white paper, the old slow, messy way of putting thoughts to paper, searching to find my own mind on the life that unfolds each day, pen in hand, moving constantly the only rule. I cannot imagine a day without this pleasure. The brain and hand keep moving across the page, pulling out the mundane to find the important below it. When I take the writing to the computer, typing on a keyboard, it is different. It is work. It is editing to make it perfect, something others will see.