Like any run of the mill virgin, I’m trying to figure how everything works while all hot and bothered. As you can imagine, at lot of it comes down to instinct and pure
animal drive. Great artists, past and present, seem to be in touch with their primal nature, which can be at once liberating and alarming. So after working with Bob for
about a month, this is where I’m at.
Since this column will follow my trek into new territory with Bob on my heels, I’ll catch you up this week. Then you’ll get the week by week commentary. Bob has me
reading Lindsay Pollock’s book, The Girl with the Gallery, and Richard Polsky’s I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon). He’s sent me links of Gallery & Studio articles and artist’
s sites. He’s explained the basics of the business side of art and the current status of the NY art scene at a mile a minute over the phone. (Good thing I’m a fast thinker
‘cause he’s a fast talker.) Shortly after we began working together, he suggested that I incorporate a particular technical idea into my next work, and I got busy on that. It
all sounds fairly standard, right?
Yes and no.
On top of what one might expect from a mentor, Bob has a unique way of sinking in and pulling out the inner machinations of the soul in hopes to eventually see it on
canvas. Interesting. So while my guts are being kneaded, pulled, pinched, and twisted (which feels surprisingly good),
I’m trying to take in all sorts of left brain facts, history, and lingo. It’s coming at me fast. I’m trying to catch my breath, assimilate, create, and build a lasting relationship
at the speed of light. Did I mention that I’m not a sweet, young thing? Although forty is the new twenty, and women born in the 60’s seem to be hot lately, there’s no
time to waste. So, yes, there’s yet another forty (ish)-year-old virgin in your life.
And the potential popping cherry
on top of this new experience is my fear that I’ll somehow fail to impress. And the twist making it even dicier is that at the creative heart of who I am, I could honestly
care less whether he ultimately likes what I create; I create what I need to create. Failing to do so would be my greatest loss. No matter what other positive outcomes, a
personal let down of that kind would make it all crap.
I told him so.
So, as you can see, working with a creative mentor can be tricky. In nearly the same breath as “I honestly could care less whether or not you like my latest work,” I told
him I hoped he wouldn’t suddenly tire of me now that this column is running. Ouch! If that happens, the Art Virgin will have to write, “I’m screwed.”
"The Art Virgin & Boundaries Part 7"
Penelope Przekop is an emerging talent to watch, according to acclaimed journalist and author, Marcia Layton Turner.
Penelope is an author and artist whose talent and imagination seem boundless.
Her books include Aberrations (Greenleaf Book Group) and Six Sigma for Business Excellence (McGraw-Hill). For nearly twenty
years, she wrote while pursuing a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry where she was most recently a global director at
Johnson & Johnson. In late 2007, she took a step back from the pharmaceutical arena to focus on her writing. At that time, she also
began painting. After painting just short of two years, her work has gained attention in New York. She is currently working closely with
Bob Hogge (Monkdogz Urban Art Gallery) on artist projects and exhibition works.
Penelope’s writing has been featured in the New Jersey Star Ledger, the Shreveport Times, the Baton Rouge Advocate, the Detroit Metro
Times, and several other publications. Her blog, Aberration Nation, has been praised by acclaimed authors Anneli Rufus, Marya
Hornbacher, Terri Cheney, Marisa Acocella Marchetto, Melissa Walker, and Susan Cheever. Her blog post, NOTE to … Glamour
Magazine, garnered a personal response from Glamour’s top editors, and helped spark the current Lizzie Miller body image craze.
Author, Consultant, Artist
Agent: Christi Cardenas (christi@ThePlainsAgency.com)
Boundaries Part II
I continue to stare, lost in thought, until he finally comes slouching toward me. Comfortable. Not like a nerd at all.
“Is that always what you drink?” I ask as he comes close enough to hear above the music.
“Yep,” he says. Then he asks me to dance with a silent cock of his head.
Excited by our obvious attraction, we move toward the dance floor on what seems a journey toward inevitable closeness. But we’re soon blocked by the
crowd and find ourselves staring at Lolita’s nipples.
“Cute girl,” he finally says in that awkward, charming way nerds sometimes communicate. In that magical moment, he glistens like a treasure hidden in a
dark place only I can see.
I flash a smile and then fill a plastic cup with jungle juice. “I hear she has a great personality.”
He rocks toward me. “I like her,” he says, staring at me without a blink. I feel naked and bald and woozy as if I’m filled like Lolita.
Now I realize these fantastical moments in life are fairytales, perhaps the only ones we ever find. Who can fault the young for believing in them?
The dance floor is in the formal dining room. Thirty or forty posters of models and rock stars line the walls, and layers of wallpaper peel from the corners.
The flat poster faces make the room appear more crowded than it is. Once at the edge of the dancing mob, we hesitate, waiting for an opportunity to fit
in. I swing around to face him and then realize I don’t know what to say. He gazes at me until I feel silly. Then we quickly shove our way into the drunken
“I’m Peyton,” I shout above The Blues Brothers.
“I know,” he says. Then he tells me his name and it’s perfect. He’s a good dancer, which contradicts my suspicion that he’s a nerd. His dark hair and eyes
against his pale skin bring vampires to mind: charming, elegant, and in control. Someone turns on a strobe light and his flashing face eases closer. In a bold
move, he kisses my soft, full cheeks and they’re miraculously endowed with high cheekbones like his.
Cheekbones like my mother’s.
“I like you,” he whispers into my ear like a prince sealing my approval.
Hours later as the partiers trickle away, we sit on an old piece of yard furniture behind the house. The frat music meanders around us like a last call. The
rusted latticework frame and its ugly green cushion are perfect. No deep conversation takes place; it isn’t necessary. That’s how it is when you’re
seventeen, still waiting for the depth to peak through.
“How did you know my name?” I ask, still amazed that he knew what it was.
“I’m a smart guy,” he says, running a hand through his super-short hair as if worried it may be out of place. “You’d be surprised what a person can learn
I reach up and smooth a stray curl pointing off the side of his head. “Have you been spyin’ on me?”
“Would that be so terrible?”
I reach up and smooth a stray curl pointing off the side of his head. “Have you been spyin’ on me?” “Would that be so terrible?”
The idea is appealing. I picture him lurking in dark corners, creeping down alleyways. “I’m just surprised,” I say. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you
before. I wouldn’t forget those legs.” I smile.
“Maybe you saw me with pants on.”
“It’s possible,” I say just as he kisses me. Afterwards, I snuggle close until it becomes awkward. “So what else have you observed about me?” I
finally ask because I feel compelled to bring some noise into the silence that has lasted too long.
“Well, I know you started school in January. Your hair keeps gettin’ shorter. And you’re a loner.” My eyes widen as he tells me about myself. “I
hardly ever see you with the same people.”
A crack opens and I wonder if I can close it before he notices. “What do you mean?” I ask.
“I think you have a quality that attracts people, but you don’t seem to hang around with the same crowd for too long.” My lips slowly part along
with the widening cleft. “I think there’s more to you than meets the average eye, somethin’ a little dark.”
I stand up. Part of me wants to cling to him as if he’s divine; I want him to come into my heart and save me. And I want to say something equally
perceptive, but instead, the part of me that feels compelled to run, falls back into the shallow flirtatious mode that I’m so good at. “Well, I’m clearly
at a disadvantage here.” I sink down into the ugly green cushion.
“Depends on how you look at it.”
I want to kick myself because I suddenly feel damaged and unbelievable.
“But just so you don’t feel too invaded,” he says, scratching his head, “my parents are from New Jersey but moved down here before I was born.
My dad went to MIT and teaches at the Med Center. That’s my life in a nutshell.”
“Well, that doesn’t tell me much,” I say, squinting as if it will help me understand who I’m looking at.
“My detailed bio is on a need-to-know basis.”
“What’s the big secret?” I ask. “Do you have a police record or somethin’?”
“You’re tough,” he says, shaking his head.
There’s a long silence; I hear crickets.
Then finally he says, “Somehow I skipped second grade and I’m startin’ med school in the fall.” “Aren’t you young for that?”
“I’m in the six-year program.”
“Oh,” I say, realizing he must be extremely smart. “What is that exactly?”
“You apply in high school,” he says as if it’s embarrassing. “You have to do two years of undergrad and the regular four years of med school. I’m
just finishin’ year two.” He pauses, and then says, “So far, I’ve made it farther than my sisters.”
“What happened to them?”
In his book, Maps & Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands, Michael Chabon wrote, "Sometimes I fear to write, even in fictional
form, about things that really happened to me, about things that I ready did, or about the numerous unattractive, cruel, or embarrassing thoughts
that I have one time or another entertained.” I’ve often thought about this; I suspect most writers do.
Compared to creating art, fiction is easier to hide inside. As scary as it is, there’s a never ending cast of characters a writer can use to gloss over
the dirty, ugly truth about how one feels and views life, what one has experienced, or wants. Art, I’m finding, is a bit more explicit. As I said to
Bob this week, creating art feels like standing naked in front of a crowd or worse, on a runway. Fiction is more like being naked with someone
behind closed doors. You share yourself in an intimate way that’s safer. If you choose, there are lights to switch off, costumes to wear, words
to whisper, music to set the mood; those are the tools of truth in fiction. Standing naked in a crowd is sure to elicit an instant widespread
reaction, bright lights illuminating who you are, people chatting as they stare, relatives gasping as they cover the eyes of children. And yet there’s
a strange need to stand there exposed, to be seen, opened up like a sliced onion even if it stinks.
Last week I finished the first piece I tackled since linking up with Bob. This week it was time to start another project. Bob suggested some type
of self portrait, and I agreed. So if, like Shrek, I’m made of layers, how many am I willing to peel back for this piece? How deep a view am I
willing to give the relatives, the crowd, the children?
My mother, whom I’ve written about, has already disowned me based on some of my blog content. I did, however, speak to her recently, just
long enough for her to mention that if not for being her daughter, she wouldn’t care to know me. (I’ve decided to incorporate that hole in my
heart into the work.) But what else might I divulge, and risk losing her forever? When do we finally divorce ourselves from those who fail to
understand or accept who we are? Bob says that the depth of commitment to the work and to who I am will drive us home; if we drive exactly
how the booklet says, we’d probably all f—king kill ourselves.
You know, when you really look close at a sliced onion, it’s beautiful. If you try to ignore the smell, and manage to keep from crying, there’s a
translucent, delicate glow like nothing else on earth. It’s unique and while most people probably don’t care to take a big bite out of it, its uses are
never ending. The world needs onions just like it needs people willing to peel back layers and stand naked in crowds for all to see. Sometimes
that odd glow becomes a reflection.
I’ve only entered one art contest in my life … and I won! Don’t get too excited. It was a sixth grade Halloween picture
competition. The winner got to re-create their picture on a poster and hang it at the local grocery store to advertise our upcoming
Halloween Fair. Big wow. Anyway, despite my belief that I was terrible at drawing, I painstakingly created a frightening scene and
colored it as best I could. Looking back, I think I won due to the details I included and the overall composition. It was a picture
folks would stop to look at.
There was also one college incident in which my art skills peaked out. It happened in my Animal Physiology course. We had to
draw the bones and muscles onto the outline of a cat. For some strange reason, I dug into that assignment. In fact, I dug out my
old colored pencils and worked on it for hours. Low and behold, during class the professor declared that it was so impressive that
he wanted to keep it as his example for years to come. I couldn’t believe it! I thought it was some kind of fluke. A physiological
college miracle. However, I shrugged it off and went back to my primary creative interests of writing, reading, and art history.
I’m not a particularly competitive person. I privately compete with myself, always hoping to outperform the last performance.
The thought of competing against others makes me cringe, particularly with something as close to my soul as writing and art. (I
think my sixth grade teacher forced us to do the Halloween picture.) Yet, Bob has suggested that I begin entering art competitions.
He says it will help build my CV.
But I hate public losses. If I fail to outperform myself, I can usually brush it under the rug. I can try harder next time. But
entering an official competition means eyes will scrutinize my work against someone else’s. If I come up short, those who knew I
entered will know I failed. Bob will know. Oh the agony. I’ll feel worthless and discouraged. I’ll suddenly be loaded down by
every negative thought I’ve ever had about my work; it will all be justified.
I told Bob and he said, “You may win, you may lose. Just f--king do it.”
Isn’t that what I’d just told my kid the other day (without the expletive), her watery blue eyes gazing at me as if I were some kind
of regal example of how life should be?
So, with that reality on my head, I started small. I loaded a few of my paintings onto barebrush.com, a site dedicated to nudes.
Each month they have a juried selection to choose a “Nude of the Day” for their calendar. (You’re likely familiar with the
concept.) Moving forward, in honor of Bob, the bright-eyed kid, and all that is holy in CV building, I’ll force myself to keep you
posted on my competitive hits and misses. It may be painful but pain is part of the journey. Amen.
(Note: In Bob’s defense, he doesn’t always use such expletives but tossing them in adds great character, I think. He’s intense,
driven, and passionate about what he does. He just may be a f--king genius. )
He pauses, and then says, “So far, I’ve made it farther than my sisters.”
“What happened to them?”
“My oldest sister was also in the program but dropped out to get married. That’s when my dad had his first heart attack.” He
pauses again to swat a mosquito on his regal calf. “My other sister was a career college student. She went on and off for six years
and ended up with nothin’. She’s a secretary at the med school now. I don’t think my dad claims to know her.” He smiles. “I’m
their last great hope.” Suddenly feeling smarter, I say, “Well, believe it or not, I graduated from high school early, too.”
He raises his eyebrows, impressed. “So we have somethin’ in common.” He doesn’t ask for the details and I decide they’re on a
need-to-know basis. I left high school to preserve my sanity. Although I was in the right crowd, a cheerleader, a good student,
none of it mattered. Matt’s right. I have a knack for attracting people, especially guys. But once they realize it’s a trick, they leave
me behind, watching as they search for something real.
I don’t know how to make it real. I don’t know that trying so hard to create reality usually puts a lethal bullet through its head.
Real is supposed to be easy; when it’s not, the question is why not how.
“You must be a genius to be in that program,” I say. “I’m not exactly Einstein.” It’s an apology for not being as smart as I want to
His eyes narrow, and he asks, “What was I drinkin’ tonight?”
“What do you mean?”
“Exactly what I said. What was I drinkin’?”
“If you remember that, you’re smart enough for me,” he says, grinning like a kid. Suddenly I think of the old Jeep I
walked past on the way to the frat house. Its crude bumper sticker flashes through my mind. The only parking place I could find
was three blocks away. I managed to maneuver my tiny Honda between a black Nova with flames painted on its hood and a Jeep
with a bumper sticker that read, “Stay back! My daddy didn’t pull out on time either.” The Jeep’s lights were on and the top
down. And although I decided the owner probably deserved a little divine retribution for being so crude, I couldn’t resist reaching in
and flipping the switch.
I knew what it felt like to be stranded.
“You don’t happen to drive a bumper-stickered-up Jeep, do you?” I ask.
He shakes his head, puzzled. “Actually, I came with my friend, Pete. He left a while ago.”
The house is now quiet and still. The music died sometime between our first kiss and the realization that I’m not sure what real is.
“I guess I’ll have to take you home,” I say, excited but a little sad, worried that my past will be repeated.
As we walk down the shabby street to my car, I realize my departure feels much safer than my arrival. It’s an older section of
town, a sore spot. Poor blacks and southern white trash line its streets. But I think it gives Shreveport depth and character. The
people who live in the broken down homes have little means to hide behind, but they have each other. Grandmas, teenagers, and
toddlers sit, run, and stand on dead grass and porches whose peeling lead paint infects their unsuspecting minds. I wonder what
The children make me sad.
Is there someone in your life who can never be pleased? Do you act like you don’t care? Maybe you don’t. If so, I envy you.
Yesterday I finished my latest work, something I attempted to put my guts and soul into. My aim was to move further outside my
comfort zone. For me, the work was brave. (We all have our own limits and boundaries to step across.) I have many more to
cross but this was a start.
I painted an abstract nude self-portrait, and at the heart there is a hole. Surrounding that hole is the word mother. She can never be
pleased, not by me anyway. Perhaps another daughter would please her, one she has imagined and longed for since before my
conception. My new painting, titled Truth for now, is basically a schematic of what I see as the system of truth in my own life,
and perhaps everyone’s. If I could crash that system, I would.
Well, they say the first step is admitting to or seeing an issue for what it is. So I dug it out and placed it on canvas. Didn’t I know
this stuff already? Yes and no. That’s part of the beauty and usefulness of art. It enables visual thinkers and feelers to somehow
extract the swirling, sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly wealth inside and place it on a giant surface, like a billboard. Then we get
to step back and look at the puzzle we created over and over again.
Bob has asked me what I’d like to do next, but I don’t yet know. I’m still staring at myself with those red-angry monkeys on my
back, and those blue-sad limiting words holding me in place when I want to move. I’m fixated on that hole in my heart and that
wound in my ovary that’s been pecked at like Prometheus’ liver. I’m crying over the remnants of those cut out words that make
me who I am burning at my feet. I’m frustrated by truth on my back and truth on fire.
Bob says I should choose something in this piece, one of the hardest elements. I should blast it out, explore it and paint it. So this
is what I will think about during Thanksgiving. Along with all the many things I have to be thankful for, I will think about what has
wounded me, what bothers me, what is hard. I’ll search out the one thing I need to express at this point in my life.
So you may be wondering why that’s necessary. Why, if there is so much to be thankful for, must this woman focus on the
negative? Well, for me, art must mean something. I can’t just paint a pretty picture. Sure it may be pretty but if there’s no
purpose other than esthetics, it quickly becomes shallow. The beauty fades. After all, isn’t it personality and such that keep those
we love truly magnificent in our eyes? And so it is with art. Depth is what I’m aiming for. If I find that, I’ll grasp something
beautiful. Beautiful as in the words of Irving Stone’s Van Gogh,
… We think all truth beautiful, no matter how hideous its face may seem. We accept all of nature, without any repudiation. We
believe there is more beauty in harsh truth than in a pretty lie, more poetry in earthiness than in all the salons of Paris. We think pain
good, because it is the most profound of all human feelings. We think sex beautiful, even when portrayed by a harlot and a pimp.
We put character above ugliness, pain above prettiness, and hard, crude reality above all the wealth in France. We accept life in its
The children make me sad.
For the most part, Shreveport gives the illusion of peace. There are truckloads of religious people and we certainly have enough
room to seat them all. There’s a Protestant church on every corner, and a Catholic one here and there. On most afternoons,
billowing white clouds hang in every direction. Like angels of mercy, they offer shade to those who long to recapture what is
invariably stolen by our stifling climate.
The people who stared at me earlier are gone now. It’s no longer obvious that I don’t belong, that I should feel guilty for having
more, or that I’m alone.
Matt’s presence in my car is so intense that I can’t speak. I roll down the window letting in the thick, southern air. Soaking in it
together, I’m sure some part of him will mingle with my sin, and perhaps, baptize it away. I don’t consider that he could become
part of it.
The drive is relatively quiet; he finally says, “Turn left at the next light.” The light is green and I drive through the intersection.
“Sorry,” I say with a weak laugh.
He smiles and runs his hand over my head until he touches the back of my neck. “You know, you’d make a perfect dumb blonde if
your hair wasn’t so dark.”
“Is that supposed to be a compliment?”
“It’s just that your eyes are so ... babyish.”
“You mean empty?”
“No,” he says. “And everybody loves babies, right?”
“I guess,” I say, but I’m not sure. I realized early that people want to believe the mind behind my eyes is equally naïve and empty. I
hate it, but sometimes it works and I take advantage of it. The dumb act is part of my contrived charm.
I turn the car around, but as we approach the intersection, I drive through it again. This time he stares at me as if finally questioning
my intelligence. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t know what my problem is.” I can’t concentrate. I turn the car around again, and for
the third time, approach the intersection. The light is red.
“Now turn here,” he says, wide eyed, as if speaking to a two-year-old. I laugh, but keep my eyes on the road.
When we finally arrive at his apartment, I stare ahead, afraid to look at him. When I finally do, he takes my head in his hands and
kisses me with open eyes. I’ve kissed a truckload of guys but their eyes have all been closed.
For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil.
Sneaking in late makes me feel bad but it’s worth it. Besides, my parents never wait up. They trust me, or perhaps they’re too busy
with their own contorted lives to worry about their teenage daughter.
Somehow we all believe I’m an adult.
I scurry up the stairs to my bedroom but freeze as my hand comes down on the railing. A cockroach nearly two inches in length
teeters on the round wood. I don’t move, afraid he’ll fly at me. I’m used to roaches. They live beneath our home, climbing through
the walls and hanging out inside our dishwasher. As a Southern rule, we have our house sprayed on a monthly basis, but they can’t
be extinguished, only contained. Yet out of sight seems enough and we relax, pretending they aren’t really there. We’re good at
As promised, over Thanksgiving I thought about all the crap in my life along with the fantastic stuff I have to be happy about. Honestly,
digging up the negative felt a bit forced. Trust me, sometimes it’s easy, so effortless that pulling myself out of the funk is an intense
struggle you probably don’t want to hear about. But when I’m feeling great, I don’t particularly care to remind myself of all the garbage
I’ve finally managed to overcome (or that I’m still working on).
Who would want to do that?
So, last week I struggled, mulling over all the advice and instinctual notions that the artist expresses the whole wrack, lode, and depths
of the soul kind of thing. I understand the need to do that. I see the purpose in it for the artist as well as the voyeur. But in finding my
own style, my own visual voice, I’ve decided that to dwell only on the negative won’t ring true. After all, my nearly psycho ability to
hone in on the smallest positive in a pile of crap is exactly what gets me through it.
Keeping this in mind while planning my next piece, I recognized that what interests me the most creatively are the dichotomies in life.
Pain and joy, love and hate, hope and despair. I’ve experienced my fair share of both so why shouldn’t I express both? (This likely
seems elementary to you, but remember … I’m an art virgin.) Sure, I wonder if I should have figured all this out twenty years ago. It
took me quite awhile, and thousands upon thousands of words, to figure it out from a literary perspective.
As you can see, I’m attempting to pull what I can from my writing experience over into my art. Creative success, however you’d like
to define it, often calls for a long haul. I know that, but at the same time, there’s no time to waste.
This week, I read a review of Stephen King’s new book, Under the Dome, and thought about how prolific the guy is. Good #%$*&#
grief! Why can’t I do that? I’m trying. Many people who know me well say I seem to effortlessly juggle a lot to accomplish quite a
bit. Well, it’s not enough. It’s never enough. Never fast enough, never excellent enough, never profound enough. Oh geez, I’m
pushing myself into the funk now. But you see, that’s what it’s like. It goes on and on and on and on, the desire to improve, do more,
make more, and be more. Why can’t I have easy, simple goals? Sometimes I wish I could change that about myself. I wonder if my
drive is all about selfishness. I hope not.
Anyway, I was glad when Bob called to chat, and went off on an interesting verbal journey about how, for Christ’s sake, great,
innovative art doesn’t have to be all about doom and gloom.
It just requires honesty.
We’re good at pretending.
In a swift, spontaneous motion my free hand smashes the roach. His guts ooze between my fingers, thick white juice, like semen. The
tiny limbs squirm. I can’t run or cry out. My only option is to freeze. Disgusted. But finally there comes a quiet emptiness, and after
several moments, I wipe my hand on my shorts, decide to pretend it never happened, and tiptoe up the stairs. As I reach for my
bedroom door, I feel something on my neck. Another roach. “Peyton, it’s me,” my mother whispers as her arms enveloped
me. Her coarse, dark hair brushes against my cheek. As a small child, I clung to her long, hard hair as if it were a rope holding me
steady. I reached for it throughout my childhood as it shrank. Now the pointy ends sting my face. “Are you okay?” she asks, hand on
chest as if to slow her heart. “You scared me.” “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be late but I met someone and we were …”
“I’m so thirsty,” she interrupts as if I hadn’t said a thing. “I was just goin’ to get some water. Come on down and we’ll sit a minute.”
I follow her through the kitchen and into the living room, thinking I’ll tell her about my night, assuming she’ll want to hear. We finally
sink into our cozy sofa, sitting unnaturally close. “I met this guy named Matt. He’s goin’ to medical school in the fall. It was weird; he
knew thangs about me.”
She stares at me, but looks straight through. “Peyton, what do you think of panelin’?” I wonder if she has a hearing problem again but I
know that’s not the issue.
I squint, looking around the dark room. “Depends on what you’re panelin’. I thought you liked this color,” I say, squelching my
“I do, but I’m thinkin’ of doin’ the downstairs hallway, and eventually the stairway and the hall upstairs. The whole kit-n-caboodle.”
She flings her arms out like a backward hug that shoves me farther away.
I’m glad to hear that it isn’t the living room. My father painted our living room six times since we moved in, almost once a year. He
never complained. Not about painting, hanging wallpaper, moving furniture, or about my mother’s obsession with Simon Taylor, the
pastor who delivered her from mental illness when he gallantly exorcized her demons. This exorcism took place in 1974, a year after the
release of The Exorcist. My father was expected to rejoice. “Are you gonna make Dad put it up?”
“I know he can do it.”
“I guess it’ll look all right but it might make the house dreary,” I say, realizing it’s too late. It’s already dark and sad with the exception
of my bedroom, which I struggle to fill with cheer.
“Peyton, what are you thinkin’ about?” She caresses my neck with her manicured fingers.
“I was just thinkin’ about how much I love my room. I wish Dad could trim that tree outside the window so I can see out again.” I
enjoyed watching the pink Crepe Myrtle grow over the years but now it blocks my view. It surprises me that something so beautiful
grew into an obstruction. I wonder how I can suddenly be so willing to chop down something I love due to a larger need to see the
The Art Virgin
By Penelope Przekop
Artistic growth is, more than it is anything else, a refining of the sense of truthfulness.
The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is.
~Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark, 1915
Why is it so hard to be truthful in art? Truth actually has multiple definitions. I looked it up and there were eleven listed. After reading them all, you’d think I’d be clear on
the meaning; however, I still felt off kilter with regard to applying the definitions to art. You’ve got your conformity with fact or reality. There’s honesty and integrity.
Then you’re hit with agreement with a standard or original and then, accuracy.
So if I paint a perfect rendition of the Eiffel Tower, have I been truthful? Maybe I’ve been truthful to the tower but not to myself. Maybe I didn’t want to focus on
structures anyway, or maybe I never liked the way the tower was designed in the first place. Maybe my neck hurts from looking up and I’d much rather paint ants, so
strong and busy about their work yet so vulnerable … so short in their understanding of the world around them. Perhaps I’d like to paint that concept more than I’d like to
paint the ant? Towers, or perfect duplicates of towers, just might not be my thing--the thing that makes me who I am.
Walt Disney once said, “When I was a kid, a book I read advised young artist to be themselves. That decided it for me. I was a corny kind of guy, so I went in for corn.”
So perhaps Disney wasn’t a Michelangelo or Picasso, but he honestly expressed himself, changed the world, and immortalized himself. What more can an artist ask for?
What if Disney had decided that drawing mice wasn’t good enough? What if he thought he should be able to create the types of images Michelangelo created? Well, there
would have been a lot of smiles lost, less vacation destinations, and no Disney Channel. Worst of all, Walt Disney would never have fulfilled his destiny.
With all this in mind, I’ve decided to stop lamenting over the fact that I’m not the best at drawing things realistically. My strengths lie elsewhere and I’m determined to find
the perfect way to express myself without having to feel like a failure. So I’ve thrown that monkey to the wind with the new piece I’m working on. I created every detail
in the piece just the way I wanted to and was able to, not the way the best illustrator in the universe would have done it. So there! Is that honesty? Perhaps I’m being
dishonest in terms of accuracy or agreement with a standard, but I’m being honest to myself and my destiny. Perhaps I’m beginning to conquer one aspect of honesty in
art--the tip of an iceberg. It’s a start.
I wonder how I can suddenly be so willing to chop down something I love due to a larger need to see the world beyond.
“But it’s gorgeous. You don’t need to see a thang behind that tree,” my mother says,
making it a fact.
“I guess you’re right.” My eyes fall and I struggle to shift my attitude. “I wanna tell you about my night.” I know what’s coming by the look on her face.
“I’m so tired and it’s late,” she says. “Can you just tell me tomorrow?”
“But tomorrow’s Saturday and we can sleep late,” I whine, hoping to change her mind, not because we can sleep in, but simply because she loves me.
She reaches for the hand that killed the roach. Her narrow fingers feel warm and right holding it. Throughout my childhood, she warned me about sin, preached of avoiding
injustice, and instructed me to turn the other cheek; however, as I was thrown into the real world everything changed. She evaporated along with her unrealistic advice. I
look at her, holding my hand, and all that I’d once seen in her is gone, partly because it no longer makes sense and partly because I’m angry about it.
“Okay, tell me all about him but don’t take too long. I’m pooped,” she finally says, grabbing her head as if in pain. She does this so often that it lost meaning years ago.
“What’s his name? Did you say he was gonna start school soon?”
I tell what happened but the words seem shallow, not at all how I want them to sound and nowhere near a reflection of what I feel.
Suddenly she says, “You know, that’s really how it was with Simon.” I freeze, face blank. “He would never admit it, of course.” Her voice trails off but just when I’m sure
she’s going to stop, it rises again. “The first day I went to see him, he just stared at me. He practically begged me to come back for more counselin’. He thought we should
pray together. Little did I know! But he knew. He knew exactly what I needed. When I left that day he stood so close to me. You know … awkward close. He put his
hands on my shoulders.” She squirms as if chilled. “He squeezed ‘em and said he’d be there for me. It was embarrassin’ because I was literally shakin’. I’ll never forget
the look in his eyes. Nobody ever, ever looked at me like that.”
As the fairytale pours from her mouth, it ties knots around me. I’ve heard it a thousand times. “It’s not the same,” I say. “This is different.”
She pats my leg. “I know you don’t like to talk about all that, but you could really learn a lot from my experience.”
I feel sick. “You’re right. I don’t care about that experience.” Neither of us moves, glued together by an unbreakable bond. One she created and one I don’t recognize as
“Then you cain’t expect me to care about yours. It’s the same thang I’ve been tellin’ you for years,” she says, her eyes full of concern that looks real. “How do you think
any boy is really gonna care when you continue to be so self centered?”