Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Bad dad

Study for the mural for what was my study … for what never became a mural. Huh? Details below …
That's a scythemarked butterfly fish, in shape anyway. The colors are wrong. Gray whale in the back.

The first-born awoke hundreds of mornings and many dozens of naps to smiling, winking stars and a smiling crescent moon on the ceiling overhead, set in a carefully splotched sky of deep blue and periwinkle.

Across the room, he saw his abstracted self in red footie pajamas, brownish hair, back turned and androgynous (we didn't know if first-born would be boy or girl). The painted version was napping nestled in the thick roots of a tree lifting its leafy branches up the wall and across the ceiling, almost touching the night sky. The rest of the room was sunny yellow.

… the second-born got a beige room, hand-me-across furniture and plenty of good intentions, still tucked away in a green file folder in my cabinet.

Our daughter was to have floated in a forest of giant kelp, assembled vividly of species found off the coast. The long spike-edged, thick veined paddles of kelp would have swayed and folded and risen and reached to the ceiling. Everything would have been authentic.

Weaving tangled webs of seaweed, looking for style and color fits. Having fits.
Big fish would have woven about the kelp. Sheephead to glimmer like carbon fiber in faint light. Neon orange garibaldi, the state fish, to brighten the dark fronds, of course. Giant sea bass looking cratered as the moon.

For more color, I'd have dotted the forest with silvery Pacific spadefish and crimson popeye catalufa. Rockfish of many species, mottled red and brown, would have knocked the color back.

Across from the kelp forest, near a window suggesting the light of shallow water, would have blossomed a tidepool, creamsicle-colored starfish and anemones and urchins.

A school of Pacific mackerel would have passed in silhouette, dark against the darker distance, and more distant still, the pale shape of a gray whale descending.

I have page after page photocopied from guidebooks from the library, desired species circled, margins pocked with notes, environments planned, preliminary sketches in place — all long ago without the aid of the Internet. Appreciate my struggle.

The blackish blue of the deep would have lightened to blues and greens then almost white across the ceiling, which would have become the ocean's surface. A necklace of California pelicans would have skimmed above the surface, scattered and twisted and pulled apart by refraction and the folds of water. Their parts and pieces would have been lit from true east by the morning sun. Or maybe the sun would have dazzled like a disco ball through the water in one corner of the room. I couldn't decide.

Couldn't. Wouldn't.


Here's the thing:
  • Preparing for our first child was a months-long ritual, some invention, much convention. It was a vacuum into which we poured our energies — for all our children, no matter how many we'd have, not just the one. He/she would be the Everychild, the reason for us as parents, the source of our joy.

    It's not like we could have decided, OK, let's mete out this much energy, get this much done, then set aside some energy for the next, and then see what we have left in the tanks for succeeding children. It doesn't work that way. First one out gets all our marbles.

    When the first was born, the starter's gun went off and the race to Take Care of Everything had begun.

    With our daughter's birth, suddenly 1+1 became 6.72 and we were never getting anything done — let alone a mural — a new ritual that endured until their first years in college.

    Our son was lucky to get his mural while we were young and unwise. Poor succeeding children.
  • I planned to give our daughter something radically different from our son's room, more realistic like a museum mural. In fact, I was inspired for this one by a mural Robert Reynolds had painted of the Morro Bay Estuary at the natural history museum there. An art professor at Cal Poly, Reynolds gave the actual bay outside a daring scare, matching it for light and beauty.

    Talk about a man's reach exceeding his grasp.

    The enormity of planning, let alone painting, would have shunted our daughter to who-knows-where in the house for months while I attempted this mural. Imagine the peaceful household.

    Would that my first thought was this mural, then the first-born might have gotten it instead, and this room would still be bare for the second.
  • Maybe I wrestled with unreasonable resentment at the time, because the second bedroom had been my office until our daughter was born. It's a sunny square room, just snug enough to force me to have kept matters clean and efficient. My drawing table stood against one wall beside a window with northern light — where the tidepool would have been painted. The computer desk was a simple swivel of the chair behind me.

    Change meant moving my drawing table into a nook next to the washer and dryer, in a crooked room that could not have possibly passed building inspection when the previous owners built it. The computer went to a desk in the back corner of the dining room.

    It could just be I was dragging me feet.
  • Maybe the mural would scare our daughter. The dark forest, the hulking fish becoming phantoms at night, the illusion of being under water.
And. And. And. The excuses are tucked away in their own folder, right next to the notes and sketches for our daughter's room.

By high school, in a different house, our daughter directed the painting of her bedroom, with the chief help of Nancy. The irony is that the result evoked the ocean. East and west walls were painted in dark aquamarine, north and south walls slightly lighter in tone, window and door trim in sea green, her desk and closet trim in reddish coral.

I was brought in — or maybe wormed my way in — to paint her door and closet doors in yellow over layers of red and brown. I had painted them to look distressed, patches of dark peeking out from the yellow, bright as the sunny houses of sunny tropical islands. I painted light and shadow to create faux carved patterns on the flat doors, then painted a large slanting rust-colored blurry-edged shadow over all the doors — they meet in a corner — as of a rococo wrought-iron veranda looming hidden above.

Our son got walls of cream and coffee, trimmed in brick red. One wall had wide stripes of glazed off-white, suggesting the awning of a bistro. He had just returned from a high school trip to France. I had no hand in the painting.

I still dream of floating a kelp forest pelicans skimming above, wingtips to the water.

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