This year I had this spontaneously wonderful idea to make sour dough ornaments with my mom. We used make these as kids, a fun activity my mom had us do with her a couple of years that I remember fondly. I guess I really like to do crafty things on occasion. Actually, I had a lot of fun in an art class for elementary ed majors in college. We learned how to do a bunch of different things and I really got into creating pictures with acrylics even though I totally suck at drawing. I always see great pictures in my head and I can’t translate them to paper. However, I found that if I really, really studied something I was looking at, I could draw it somewhat competently. As long as it wasn’t people.
I used to get into a sort of meditative concentration where I would really study the object as I tried to get my hands to draw what I was seeing. It was soothing. Relaxing. You could sit there for hours just trying to get a small segment of the object just right, and your mind would be so focused and lost, and you didn’t have to concentrate on forming words which is what often makes writing less meditative for me.
I kind of got like that yesterday as I painted these ornaments. My mom did, too. We had the radio on–first to Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion and then to a station with Christmas music and eventually to some Leonard Cohen CDs my mom has–and we just silently worked on decorating these ornaments. Occasionally we’d look over each other’s work and compliment each other, or we’d ask to borrow a color we liked that the other had mixed, and then we went back to our own quiet, contemplative modes. Too much concentration to really chatter. I suppose we were taking our art work too seriously, producing quality instead of the quantity I’d hoped to finish.
I, for one, know that I spent a little too much time on some of mine. With memories of the badly painted ones from my childhood (and seriously being displayed as a child about how bad mine looked in comparison to my mom’s), I was really concentrated on actually making my ornaments look good. Unfortunately, in the process, I grew attached to my ornaments so I decided against my original idea of adding them to Christmas cards that I give my office mates at work. They won’t appreciate them as much as I do and they’ll probably throw them out or something. So I’m going to have to just give them candy canes or something they can eat and appreciate.
Anyway, now that we painted about 1/3rd of the ornaments we made, we need to put shellack on them and then loop string through the holes we formed in them for hanging. Personally, I had so much fun working on these that I want to finish painting the rest of them. I enjoyed spending the time with my mom as well as concentrating on something that didn’t involve trying to form the right words (which I’m constantly worried about, even when writing a blog entry about the mundane experiences of my life; every word has to count and it stresses me out).
Of course, I’m still not that great an artist. My ornaments look way better from afar than they do close up–I can see all their imperfections and crooked lines. It frustrates me because I know that a real artist would be much neater. I was never good at coloring or staying within the lines. And none of my ornaments ever looked as good finished as I imagined them. It’s really hard to take a vision and translated it to something others can view, whether by writing or by painting.
My mom, as always, did a great job on her ornaments. She’s much better at the “people” ornaments while I’m much better at the “things.” My candy canes and presents and wreaths looked good, but my snowman, gingerbread man, and cats look like they were painted by a first grader. I didn’t dare attempt any of the clown ornaments. In fact, I gave up trying to make the cat ornaments look like real cats so after the first two, I just went with abstract.
At one point, I was working on three or four ornaments at one time–painting the background color on several (ie, the white on the candy cane) and, while waiting for these to dry, painting finer details (ie, black outlines) on others. My enthusiasm for the project fed the artistic trance. I used to get in trances like this when writing. I miss that feeling a lot. It’s been a long time since I’ve found myself so lost in the art that even the contemplation of what to do next was thrilling rather frustrating.
Regardless of my assessment of my artistic ability, we had a lot of fun. And that was the point, really. Just some time to spend with my mom, reliving holidays past from a different time in my life than the one I usually slip into. This year, a lot of my holiday thoughts have slipped back to things I did as a kid. Though, I suppose I’ve been doing that already for the last couple of years with going out to get a live Christmas tree with my dad. In trying to rebuild new Christmas traditions as a single person, I find myself reaching backwards to those things I found exciting as a kid. I don’t know if it’s really an effort to avoid remembering the few Thanksgivings/Christmases I shared with Mike, but it’s definitely an attempt to try on my own traditions as a adult which I probably never got a chance to do before. And I find myself pulling out those things that stand out from my childhood as really great memories.