I’m as cranky as ever about our life on a sport schedule. Yes, I do think my kids swimming competitively is wonderful and yes, I know it makes me a jerk to complain about it. My crankiness has changed a little over the last few years. Does this matter? I am 100% less resentful of having to sit at the pool for an hour or two while the kids swim laps; I am 100% more excited about watching them compete. But practice? Pfft. I find the pool calming and I generally find it to be a good place to work (in my car at the pool, that is). Eric and I share driving duties. But I’m still cranky about the usual things: having to talk to other parents, having to eat dinner at weird times, having to not see my husband most nights, having to cajole the kids into putting on suits when they feel tired/angry/hesitant.
This is parenting. This is parenting. This is parenting.
Eric just left to pick up Addie from the pool, after driving cross-town twice to get them both there and then bring Henry home after he was done so he could avoid the wind. I just stayed home to stare at the wall. Tonight, everything is difficult. I thought that not having Henry play baseball this year was going to mean more ease. Ha.
AWP and LATFOB blinded me–as all writing/book gatherings do–with a flash of too-bright inspiration, followed by a heady sadness. Sadness for what? Nothing real. I’ve visited nerd land enough times to know it is a magical fairy illusion–one where I wear my best clothes and my best hair and most eager smile–and one that in no way corresponds to the life where I go to Costco to buy TP, or tell my freshmen every day to sit down and do school. I have zero desire to try to live in that imaginary space, and in fact I leave these nerd conventions feeling exhausted. But I also usually feel sad, a reasonless sad that seems to always manifest in a frustration with my schedule, lack of time, lack of energy for doing everything I want to do, etc. So today I’m pissed at swimming. I’m pissed at my job. I’m pissed at the hours it takes every day to transport two kids up from schools just miles from our house. I’m pissed that tonight when I went to cook rice, we were out of rice. So dumb. It’s the chafe of wants against have-tos, the old feeling like I have to be too many things to too many people, when I want to be alone, in my red sweat pants, writing for me (or, let’s be real, for someone who wants to pay me in US currency). I want to ditch the Mrs. Partington persona and shut down the HSP show. I want write and be impolite and and have energy for it and walk out of my office occasionally for hugs from my three people. Swimming gets the brunt of my frustration only because it’s the new thing in our schedule and if you’re going to parent someone who does a thing, you really can’t suck at making them go.
I am treading water in my critical career. I am pushing and pushing. I want to quit every night. I’m afraid to rest. This is writing.
We’re fighting about money. Getting married on tax day seemed funny 16 years ago.
What is this post? I’m trying to keep moving. I am staying up because I don’t know how to do the ten minutes where I lay in bed before I fall asleep. I am dreading that tonight. If I stop, I have to feel it pull me down. I have to wake up and do it again tomorrow. Nothing in my life is bad. But today I’m over my head.
Dorothy Rice’s memoir and art book, The Reluctant Artist, is a meditation on the author’s relationship with her father, and her efforts to catalog his extensive body of work. The artist, Joe Rice, was dedicated to completing a painting a week, yet despite creating a plethora of striking work, he never showed it or sought recognition for his art.
I recently corresponded by email with Dorothy (a good friend from my time at UCR Palm Desert’s MFA program) about writing the memoir, her father’s lasting lessons, and how she came to publish The Reluctant Artist through Shanti Arts.
Heather Scott Partington: How did The Reluctant Artist come about? What was its path to publication?
Dorothy Rice: The project began with an essay I wrote while taking taking community college classes at American River College. That essay, “The Paintings in the Rafters” told the story of an afternoon when my sisters and I got our father’s permission to haul a dozen or so paintings down from the rafters in his garage, where they had been stored (wrapped and taped up) for over twenty years. The essay was first published in the American River Review and then reprinted in the Still Point Arts Quarterly, an arts magazine that I found via the writers’ resource Duotrope. The editor of the Arts Quarterly, Christine Cote, was drawn to the art. She published several full color photos of my father’s work along with the essay and asked if I was interested in working with her on a book about my father and his art. I developed a proposal and we entered into a contract whereby I agreed to deliver text and photographs and she to publish the book.
I had no clear idea of what the text would be when I began but it eventually took its present shape, as a memoir touching on the ways in which the artwork affected me as a child, a young adult and throughout my life and, in particular, how my father’s lifelong pursuit of the arts inspired and fed my own creative aspirations. Because my father was always a very reserved man, the artwork had always seemed significant and important to me as manifestations and windows onto an interior life he kept mostly to himself.
HSP: Was there anything about the format of the book (art + prose) that presented a unique challenge or opportunity? Can you talk about how the book came together in terms of layout?
DR: The layout was primarily the purview of the publisher. She shared sample fonts and approaches to the layout with me, but to a great extent I deferred to her design expertise. When she first began to layout the project she had hoped the photos of the work could be interspersed with the text and placed near to where they are mentioned in the narrative. But she found this too cumbersome and instead opted to put most of the artwork and photos at the back of the book, with only a few images at the beginnings of the sections.
We did review several cover designs before arriving at the final. I knew that I wanted the self-portrait I call “The Green Man” on the cover and, for her, that posed some initial difficulties as the image is dark and dominant. We compromised on a smaller photograph that deemphasizes the starkness of the image. I had also wanted to use the title “The Green Man” for the book itself, but arrived at the compromise “The Reluctant Artist” after discussing with her the potential redundancy of the artwork and the title being so closely aligned.
What intrigued me the most about the publisher’s approach to the book was that she was wanted a full sense of the artist and his life and was therefore interested in including family photographs and other items of a more personal nature than I would have thought to include in the project without her encouragement. Her publications, at least in my experience, are an unusual blend of art and literature with a strong focus on visual presentation.
HSP: In the book, you say “I tuck things away for safekeeping.” Do your family members have a sense that you remember things better than they do? Or differently? What has your family’s reaction been to the memoir you’ve written about your memories of your dad?
DR: I think I have a reputation of “not letting things go,” of holding on to bits of information for later use. In terms of my father and his art, I was probably very irritating at times in terms of keeping track of where everything was and of what had been photographed and what remained to be done. For several years it was a kind of compulsion to gather the complete record and document his art on a website I created as a sort of online archive. Now that the book is done and there is something to show for those years, family members are very supportive and, I think, touched that we now have this unique memento of our father, who, in many ways, was an enigma to us all.
As far as memory, I think I have an amazing memory and that I recall many incidents complete with dialogue and other details. Yet I have learned from working on memoir projects these past view years that memory is mutable and that my “truth” isn’t always someone else’s. Our minds all work differently and it has been interesting to hear my sisters’ different takes on the same events. I did have several family members review the manuscript before it was finalized and made a few tweaks in response to their comments, not because I had it “wrong” necessarily, but because different wording could better capture how we all remembered things. For example, as I tend to be more pessimistic by nature than my sisters, my take often reflects that bent.
One thing that has been very heartening, and affirming, is that several family members (immediate family, cousins, nieces, uncles) have remarked that I captured Joe Rice, that my portrayal of my father felt true to them. Also, my memories have triggered deeper remembering for them, which was an important reason for putting the book together, to keep his memory alive. Other readers (i.e. non family) have expressed that the portrayal of my father resonated for them because of their own communication issues with a parent, spouse or other loved one. It has invoked the universal difficulty inherent in really knowing another person, particularly when that person is far from transparent. Also the notion of a person quietly pursuing their passion for decades (art in this case) without fanfare and seemingly with no need or interest in any outside approval or acknowledgement has also been a source of inspiration and interest for readers, as it has always been for me.
HSP: You write that your father “had a distinct way of speaking”–how do you think his speech, and to some degree, his art–reflect the man that you came to understand him to be? Do you feel like you truly knew him?
DR: Interesting question. I always assumed his speech–he would sort of hesitate as if gathering his thoughts and then speak slowly and clearly, enunciating in an almost exaggerated way–had something to do with having come to this country in his early teens from the Philippines. But thinking about it, it could also have simply been that he was a man of few words and he didn’t take them lightly. He always thought before, and while, he spoke. His best art, to me, is careful art–the plotted geometric and surrealistic images of the 60s and 70s, so perhaps there is some concordance there.
HSP: Can you talk about the intersection of your dad’s life with some of the interesting figures in San Francisco in the 60’s?
DR: My Dad was an extreme introvert, so his life didn’t intersect with anyone’s in any obvious way. However, he was well read and aware of what was happening in the art world and therefore conversant about artists and art trends. Some of my fondest memories are of visits to museums and galleries and discussions about tastes in art. Like me I suppose, my father was not a joiner, of anything, and he avoided most social events that weren’t mandatory.
HSP: What do you wish you could ask your dad now?
DR: Related to the question above, I wish I knew more about artists he admired, artists he may have worked alongside or taken classes from at the San Francisco Art Institute, or earlier in undergraduate or graduate school. I always wanted to know what art meant to him, why he did it, why he had no interest in sharing or showing. It honestly puzzled me that as his health began to decline it became clear he hadn’t kept any kind of record of the things he’d created, no notebook or list. I would mention paintings or show him something on my website and he would be surprised, pleased too usually, and say he’d forgotten all about that one.
But, to be honest, I realize there’s no use wishing I could ask him things as he probably wouldn’t have answered in any way that I would find satisfactory. I asked lots of things along the lines of my questions above while he was still alive and received monosyllabic responses at best, more often only a wry smile and a wrinkled brow, as if to say, “what’s it to you, nosey pants.”
HSP: I know The Reluctant Artist took several forms before it was a memoir and art book. What might readers be surprised to know about those earlier versions?
DR: Well, I was always inspired by my father and his art, but I had also always wanted to be a fiction writer. So initially I fictionalized his life and thought it could be some kind of novel. Then, when I began taking writing classes and going to workshops, one instructor suggested I turn my novel into a murder mystery to liven it up. “Throw a dead body onto page two,” was his exact advice. So I did that and spent several years churning out a murder mystery, complete with San Francisco Irish detective, crazed hippies, one victim tossed from the allegedly haunted tower at the San Francisco Art Institute, the other strangled with her pearls in a dank basement. Very noir, very lame, very out of my wheel house. That novel resides in a drawer in my office, well actually, on the floor behind my desk.
HSP: What’s your next project?
DR: I am working on a memoir inspired by my experiences as a mother. I never planned to have kids yet I ended up having a child in my 20s, 30s and 40s, one every nine years, plus two stepsons who came into my life with my third marriage.
This year, with my youngest child leaving home for college in the fall, I find myself reflecting on the journey, three decades during which I have been many kinds of mother—single, married, step, involved, neglectful and merely misguided. That said, who knows where it will lead.
The Reluctant Artist is available for purchase here.
More information about Joe Rice can be found here.
More information about Dorothy Rice can be found here.
Photos of Joe Rice’s artwork used with the author’s permission.
I am happy as a clam, but I’m nowhere near as happy as Hurley, who has made it his personal mission to follow me around the new house. I suppose this isn’t too different from how he had to be near me in the old house, except the old house was so small that he didn’t have to get up. There are so many new dog places in the new digs. He’s been busy trying to never be more than two feet away from Mom.
The house is good. It doesn’t feel like ours yet, but I’m not complaining. I think this is due to two things: 1) it’s not in my head yet that we deserve something so nice. Yeah, I know that we are paying the mortgage, so I am not being completely ignorant about how it works to qualify for or pay a home loan. But space is so NICE. After you tell yourself for years that where you are and what you have is good enough, I think it just takes a while to adjust.
2) All of our stuff has a place to go. I have never experienced this in my married life, and since my married life is basically the history of my entire adult life, I have never experienced this in my entire adult life. No, all of our stuff is not here. But most of our regular day-to-day stuff is, and it fits in the cabinets. I can tell you that that was something I never imagined happening. Not because we had a crapload of stuff (I think we do okay, Marie Kondo-wise), but because the storage in our previous homes was just so teensy. Eric’s favorite room in the house is the giant pantry under the stairs, and I totally get it. When you can have your extra AppleJacks and your extra TP in the house, you are livin’ right. Thanks, Master’s degree!
Don’t go all OCD on me. Those TV wires are going in the wall, stat.
School is good. October is here and busy as ever with Homecomings and ordinary school doings, but that’s when I’m happiest. Everyone always has something to do, which means there’s less attention on everyone being new and having to prove how awesome they are. And if I manage my work (paper) load wisely, by October it doesn’t get so out of control that I need to take days off so I can grade. My kids (students) get it–well, I hope, at this point–they get me and they get what The Mrs. Partington show is and is not going to be. It’s routine time, and I thrive on routine time. The monkeys are wrapping up swimming (shh… I can’t wait for a break from sports!) and even though I pretty much hate fall, I am ready for some time inside my new house under 25 blankets.
I haven’t done anything extraordinary lately in terms of reviewing, but I do find that having an office feels like an extravagance. It’s a luxury to leave my stuff out on my desk and to know I can walk in and sit down in a quiet room whenever I need to read or write. I’d been having a rough stretch while we moved from house to house, and now that we’re settled I feel like myself. Reviewing comes with occasional waves of self-doubt and frustration, and I (fingers crossed) think I’m heading out of a bad one. It helps that I have been reading good books–I’ve been excited to work through them on the page. I hope now that I am back working every morning again and since I have a place to “go” to work I can also get back to some serious pitching and planning. It should surprise absolutely nobody that I work better when I have a place and a plan.
So that’s October. I just read Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly yesterday because I was having a bout of surgery-related pain (I know, still?) and I decided the cure was a long day in bed with a self-helpish book. I was inspired by everything Brown had to say, but particularly what she says about how we live in a culture that perpetuates the idea of scarcity. (I am not enough, I do not do enough, I’ll never be enough, I’ll never have enough… those tapes we play in our heads.) She says the antidote to the kind of misery and the shame that comes from that kind of thinking (the kind of thing that’s guaranteed to ruin any moment because we’re already thinking about how it can go wrong) is gratitude. Duh. But I mean, she’s right, and it didn’t hurt me to read it. (Brown’s TED talk is pretty good if you’re not the readin’ type.)
Anyhoo. I’m feeling thankful today, and I have so many reasons to be.
Mostly, it feels like I’ve been standing in line at Ulta.
Do you notice how there are always about fifteen people working there, yet there is always a line to the back of the store? Hate. Shout out to my new favorite eyebrow pencil, however: Anastasia Brow Wiz in Caramel.
But what I’ve been doing? Teaching. Cat snuggling. Books, and walking to podcasts. Oh, and a short Super-Bowl-avoidance shopping trip.
What am I not doing? I think that’s more interesting–at least to me. Most of my worry time is devoted to it, anyway. Since December, I haven’t written any fiction. Zip. I tried once and all I got was two confused pages.
I feel like such a loser. Way to use your MFA, HSP. I sent my friend Faye a letter the other day, and I whined about this for about two pages (yep, I totally could have put that time to good use writing a damn story–or, you know, this time I’m using right here to blog). But I’m struggling to get a story out. Really struggling. Anything.
Why is this? I have all kinds of excuses. The first is that I have been really busy with review work–a blessing, the best, happiest kind of blessing–but this is also a time of change. I haven’t found equilibrium yet. Damn if I’m not predictable about what sets me spinning.
Excuse #2: My whole family has been sick. Fortunately (and it’s just a teensy bit hard to admit this, but I will) I didn’t get as sick as the rest of them because I was the only one who had a flu shot. But one or another of us has been down for about three weeks. Lots of missed work for sickies. I’ve also had some ladyparts problems again, which has meant a shitton of doctors appointments of one kind or another. And a lot of laying down while they put me into giant tubes (nothing wrong, just a hassle, and time). While it’s been a time of gratitude about our double medical insurance, it hasn’t been my most productive moment for the written word.
Excuse #3: I’m trying to lose weight, which means I hate everything.
But so what, Whineypants. I know. None of that matters when it comes to what I want for myself. Do I want to be a writer of fiction? I do. And if I do, that means putting my money where my mouth is. Or maybe a more apt way to say it is that it means putting my butt into my chair. Making myself write the stories that I know I need to tell. Something. I haven’t figured it out yet. I like systems, and for this I don’t have one. Fiction feels like it needs space — in my head and in my day. I haven’t found that. Not that kind, at least.
Don’t get me wrong. Things are good. I have work. I have a routine. I have a way to make it work with my day job and my family. I have myself figured out when it comes to reviewing, and I just recently found my maximum capacity. That’s a strength, in a way, to know how much you can and cannot handle. Now I do.
But this is how it is: the job of critic will always come with crises of confidence. I go along fine, read-read-read, write-write-write, and then I get another wave of who am I to say what I think about a book?Nobody cares about you, English teacher who still lives in the town where she went to high school. That feeling is stronger from time to time and I know to ride it out — it eventually passes. But lately I wonder if I can be a critic if I’m not also walking the walk. If I’m not putting my words on the page, if I’m not sending out stories, do I even get to write about what other people have done? This is just a different kind of worry.
So that’s where I am this week. What I am doing? It’s not work. Not the right kind, at least.
Need to sign and contract and send it back to someone? No scanner? (Actually, I have a scanner but it takes 10 minutes to warm up and then another 10 minutes for me to remember how to use it.) I’ve been using this app to scan documents for about a year and it works great.
Genius Scan makes your phone work like a scanner. Take a picture of a signed document, and the app turns it into a PDF, which you can email. Need to sign and send multiple pages in one PDF? It lets you do that, too. There’s a (pay) option to fax, but do people still use fax machines? Is it 1987?
This is a more recent discovery, but I really like it too. For months I’ve been trying to track how I spend my time on freelance/review projects. I’ve been doing this using pencil and paper (which is fine), but usually I have to do a little bit of math to figure out how long I devoted to each task. Boo, math.
This app lets you start a timer (online or on your phone) and label it–under project–and it keeps track of your total hours spent on each thing. If you’re tracking this kind of thing, the reports are really helpful. And you know how I enjoy a good report.
Nobody sponsored this post. I just like both of these things.
Oh, and: This isn’t something I’m using for writing, but the Pact app is sure keeping me honest (and making me go to the gym). I can recommend that one, too.
Can you recommend any good apps? I’m always looking for something new.