Tag Archives: Painting

Working Title, Chapter 2

It almost didn’t happen – I had to battle some kind of virus (damn you, Australian winter!) and another bout of writer’s block. Overcame the first one by sleeping and the second by giving up on a particular scene (not deleting, just moving it down) and taking a slightly different direction. Voila, a new chapter and a new painting in the nick of time!

Thank you all so much for providing comments! They really helped – you may notice Pop is now Pa, and I have amended the first chapter accordingly. If you are new to the blog, please note that what follows is my attempt to write and live-post my new story one chapter and one character portrait at a time. There’s no way I can finish a portrait in a week, so I will be posting photos of each painting as they progress through the stages – some stages may be ugly. This one is of Rose, the narrator. Please feel free to comment, but be kind – I bruise (and doubt myself) easily. Also, if you’re new and interested – start with the Chapter 1.

Here she goes.

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The morning it all started someone dumped a box of kittens on our doorstep, tiny little things with ringworm so bad, their tails were bold. Pa was so excited I was seriously concerned he might have a coronary.

“Look, Rozochka!” He held one of the meowing rats up for me to see. “Look at ze white paws! Is like he has socks!”

I was less than thrilled. I actually like cats, just not so many of them. With the new additions, the household feline population reached at least a dozen, if you counted in the transients.

“That’s cute, Pa.” I leaned in closer and ran my finger across the kitten’s belly. “That’s a flea. I just saw a flea.”

“I will call him Socks.” He hugged the dirty little thing to his chest.

“Don’t start naming them, please,” I said, checking my watch. “Socks needs to find a good home very, very soon. And wash your hands, for the love of God. Ringworm is extremely contagious.”

“I will wash, Rozochka.”

“Thank you. Gotta go. And please, I beg you, don’t let them in your bed.”

That was pointless, I thought, getting into my car. The kittens were destined to have the run of the house, grow up to be big fat cats, and settle in permanently. Pa was about to spend whatever was left of his pension on veterinarian bills and every waking minute grooming and feeding them. Pa needed humans, not a bunch of useless freeloaders that had no purpose and didn’t contribute to anything, just laid around staring out the window and contemplating their pointless lives.

I’m angry at kittens. That was a new low, except, of course, it wasn’t kittens that got me there. It was my freeloading soon-to-be-ex-husband. Alex and I were still stuck in mediation, and that meant I was stuck in life until I could settle and get unchained from the dead weight. Once the house sells, I will move into my own place. The thought made me terribly guilty, the way it always did. Pa wouldn’t say anything, but it only made the guilt worse.

“It’s the only way,” I said to myself. The only way for me to have a chance at those grandkids Pa so desperately wanted. I imagined Alex now regretted not even considering having a baby – God knows, he would be claiming child support too. I was almost thankful for his selfishness, except for me “kids” would now most likely mean IVF, even if I managed to find some guy equally anxious to procreate. According to Claire, there were still plenty of them on the Internet, men who just crossed over the hill and finally realized that greener grass is usually fenced in and jealously guarded. I still had a few years to sort through them before even the most unscrupulous IVF clinics would turn me down, I just needed my own place to do that. My own place, with no useless freeloaders contemplating their pointless lives.

And definitely no cats.

*

“Just move out now,” Claire said. “You don’t have to buy a house, just rent one. Rent an apartment. Or a room. Move on.”

“I can’t,” I whispered. “I feel so guilty.”

I didn’t have to whisper – the office was nearly empty, with everyone out in court or meeting clients. Still, years of working for the law firm of Rich&Richer, as Claire called them, trained me to think in billable hours. Talking with the fellow paralegal was not billable. Not that Claire cared.

“You’re always feeling guilty,” she said. “You need to stop that.”

“What, just stop caring about an old man who has nobody except me in this world?”

“He has a son, doesn’t he?”

I rolled my eyes. “You know my father is useless. The best-case scenario is that he disappears forever and I don’t have to worry about paying his debts, too.”

“When was the last time you saw him, two years ago? Maybe he’s dead.”

“That’s what I love about you,” I said. “Ever the optimist.”

She laughed. “Any time, darl’. But seriously, move out.”

“I can’t. You don’t understand. He’s so old. And the cats, my God, the cats. He got more this morning. People bring them around now. I bet if you Google “cat lady”, his address would be at the top.”

She laughed again. “So, he got the cats! He doesn’t need you.”

“He needs people. He only collects cats cause he’s so lonely.”

“Maybe you both need dates.”

I shook my head. “You know he wouldn’t.”

“Oh. The grandma?”

“Yep.”

My grandmother, Roza Lansky, has been dead for over sixty years. Sixty-eight, to be precise because that’s how old my father was. To my knowledge, Pa has not so much as looked at another woman for sixty-eight years. I suddenly felt like crying, and not because I was sad for him. I was sad for me, poor little me. I inherited her name and, according to Pa, her looks, but there wasn’t a man in the world who would mourn me for that long. Except for Pa, but he didn’t count.

“You’re okay.” Claire patted my arm. “Seriously, you don’t have to babysit him. That’s enabling. He should meet other people.”

I wiped my eyes. “He doesn’t leave the house.”

“Maybe he should. Join some club. Play golf or something.”

“He can barely walk.”

“He can study. They have this University of the Third Age now.”

“I don’t think he even finished school.”

She snorted. “It’s not an actual university. It’s like a school for old people. They teach random stuff, like public speaking and current affairs. My grandmother loves it. She is taking painting lessons. Maybe your Pa can do some painting?”

*

Pa wasn’t on the porch when I pulled up to the house later. I was spent – being a paralegal, especially in my office, was basically doing twice the work of a solicitor for half the pay. I had a thick folder to get through and if Pa wanted to watch movies on his own, then great. All I wanted was my bed and some quiet.

The house was dark. Dark and quiet, except for the cats that greeted me at the door with indignant meowing, demanding dinner. For one terrifying moment I thought Pa was dead, had a heart attack while I was at work, or worse, hurt himself and couldn’t get to the phone, and slowly bled to death, alone, on the floor. It wasn’t hard to imagine, the old man was almost ninety. Then I heard cooing from down the hallway and saw a sliver of light coming from under the bathroom door.

He was sitting cross-legged on the bathroom mat, a towel in his lap, fussing over one of the kittens. The other kittens were asleep together in a basket and one of the tabbies observed the scene patiently from the counter, only the tip of his tail indicating the rage at having to wait for his regularly scheduled meal.

“What’s going on here?”

“Rozochka!” He straightened his back with a visible effort. “You’re home early.”

“Pa, it’s after six. How long have you been sitting on the floor?”

He looked at me with genuine confusion. “I don’t know.”

I helped him get up while he babbled away about the kittens, and the fleas, and how the vet said he could only use lavender oil to treat them because they were so young.

“Ze fleas, they don’t like ze oil. Very strange. It smell so nice.”

His fine white hair was messy and his hips and knees popped loudly. “You can’t do this, Pa.” I said. “Have you even showered today? You need to take better care of yourself.”

“I know, I know.” He shuffled towards the kitchen.

“You’re not cooking,” I said, overtaking him. “Sit down on a sofa, okay? I will cook.”

He didn’t even protest as he usually did. “Sank you, pet. I need to feed my babies.”

He fed the cats and then watched the news while I made a chicken stir-fry, something quick that I didn’t have to feel guilty about later. I brought the bowls into the living room – we usually ate at the kitchen table, but tonight wasn’t a usual day.

“Do you want something else, Rozochka? Maybe mashed potatoes?”

I almost had to hold him down. “Pa, relax. I don’t want any, but I will make something else for you if you’re hungry. Are you hungry?”

“No, no,” he said. “You know I don’t eat much.”

“That makes two of us.”

He sighed but didn’t even lecture me on the many reasons why I need to eat more. That was definitely unusual.

“Pa, are you okay?”

“I am very good, Rozochka,” he beamed at me. “The doctor gave me lotion for ze kittens. For tails. He said ze fur will grow back. He said­–“

“Pa, seriously. I’m starting to worry about you.”

“Why, Rozochka?”

“I don’t know. It’s the cats. Or maybe that you’re cooped up in here. When was the last time you got out of the house?”

“I went to the vet today.”

I laughed. “You see, it’s the cats again. When was the last time you did anything for yourself? Just for fun?”

He thought about it. “I am not cooped up. I like ze house. And cats.”

“You need people.”

“I have you, pet.”

I almost said I know. “Other people, Pa. New people. New things to do.”

He paused to think again. It was almost childlike. “I don’t know Rozochka. I don’t want anysing new.”

I don’t know why I kept pushing and I’d like to think that only part of it was the guilt of wanting to move out. I was worried about him, kind of like I worry about everything. I wanted him to be happy, and I wanted him to be safe, and all the research said a social circle is what everyone needs, but Pa’s circle was, unfortunately, more of a line. A thick, straight line between us, with no support from anyone else, not even his beloved son. It was that way forever, and it wasn’t my responsibility to fix, but I guess I didn’t see it that way. I pushed and prodded until he agreed to check out the University of the Third Age. It was in the city and he could take the tram almost to the door. There were language courses, and choir, and music, and yes, bridge.

He promised, I mean, practically swore he would check it out.

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It begins. Working Title – Chapter 1.

(Text and images by Ana Spoke. All rights reserved).

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CHAPTER 1

I know terrible things. Big, awful secrets that I can’t unknow, no matter how long I lie awake at night, rolling them over in my mind, sweating over the fantasies of going back in time and undoing all the wrongs, even though I would be powerless to change anything. I “what if” and “I wish” and I wipe away angry tears, but they keep on coming. I wish I was someone else. I wonder what would have happened if my father was never conceived. I cry over what could have been. But most of all, I wish I could go back to the last year, to the day I bought that paint set, so that I could set fire to the damn thing.

*

I moved back in with Pa and the cats thinking it was going to be only temporary, until the divorce came through. I didn’t yet know Alex was on the war path, determined to waste every cent of his and my money on proving that I was some evil, manipulative monster responsible not only for the demise of our marriage, but also for his mental health, life goals and his ability to be gainfully employed. I was sure then that things were about to get better, and how could they not, after a decade of living with an abusive drunk.

Pa couldn’t be happier about his little girl moving back home. He never said anything, but I knew he was secretly relieved that Alex was gone and so were my desperate attempts to cure my husband from his many addictions. He was happy to have my company, too – Pa loved his cats, but the conversations with his flock of strays were mostly one-sided. I would often catch him chattering away as he loaded their bowls with canned food, furry tails of all colors rubbing against his legs. They would meow back occasionally, but once their bellies were full they would move on to licking themselves and generally ignoring Pa and the whole world. Ungrateful creatures. Once I told him so.

“Zey are innocent, Rozochka,” he said. “Zey are like children, don’t know any better. And you know I do it for me. I like feeding.”

He did. Pa was a feeder. I blamed him for my thighs when I was young, before I knew about refined sugar and self-restraint. But when I got married and moved out my thighs got even bigger and it wasn’t until the day Alex picked up our wedding photo and said “boy, you really let yourself go, haven’t you?” that I had to admit it was all me. I can’t even blame Alex for the bout of bulimia that followed. I knew what I was doing. It was hard to show that self-restraint, though, when I found myself back in Pa’s loving care, showered with attention and casseroles.

“I can’t eat this much,” I said one day, sitting down to a plate full of carbs and unidentifiable fat. “This is not healthy, Pa. You need to eat more vegetables.”

“Potatoes are vegetable.”

“But not the butter you’ve drowned them in.” I poked around in the mound, trying to find anything that had not been fried.

He smiled at me, a wrinkly grey angel. “But you love butter, Rozochka.”

“I do.” And I did. But I loved him even more.

*

Come to think of it, my entire life I have searched for a man like Pa to take my hand and wrap me in a warm blanket of love, and care, and protection, and all those things that you expect from a relationship. Twice, I thought I found such a man, but each time they morphed into needy, greedy, gross, lazy, addicted, dependent Peter Pans. They morphed into my father.

I don’t know if I ever loved my father. Every now and then, when he came around and was sober enough to talk to me, he tried to tell me stories of how we used to play together when I was little or about all the times he took me fishing. I never could remember us playing, but I do remember at least one fishing trip when he yelled at me because I wouldn’t sit still in the boat. I remember how he forgot to pick me up from school once and I just stood there, cold and alone, until my mother rolled up, tires screeching and tears streaming down her face. I remember her hugging me for a very long time, and how she kept saying sorry over and over. I don’t remember my father apologizing. But then again, I don’t remember much of him at all. Mom didn’t suffer fools for nearly as long as I did – it was over between them by the time I was in the second grade. From then on it was the three musketeers – Pa, Mom and I. We were happy, so I didn’t understand then why she got married again. I understand now, but when she said we were going to move to Perth to live with Richard, I cried hysterically until it was decided that it would be better for everyone if stayed put. I had nothing personal against Richard, he is still a decent man. I just couldn’t leave Pa. So technically, from the age of eleven I was an orphan.

Eventually Mom had two more kids, and so – again, technically – I have two siblings, but not the kind of siblings with whom I can share the life’s burdens. I have a brother and a sister, but they’d never even met my father, so I can’t talk to them about Dad’s drinking. My brother is fourteen years younger than me, so I can’t ask him to scare off my no-good husband. My sister is even younger, and never been married, so she can’t relate to the seven-year itch. I have been visiting them at least once a year, in summer, but they never came to visit me. I never asked, but I got close to when I moved back in with Pa. I needed someone to share Pa’s obsessive attention.

Other than cat-saving and cat-feeding, some gardening and an occasional trip to the hardware store, Pa didn’t have any other interests. He’d kept mostly to himself his whole life and now there were no buddies to play bridge or whatever else the oldies do when they get together. He never travelled, would not go to restaurants or even movies because everything outside his four walls cost too much. Which I imagine it would if you had close to a dozen dependents at any given time. I never thought about how he’d managed while I was married and preoccupied, he certainly never complained about being lonely. Or anything at all. I only realized that he must’ve been once I was back – every day when I came home from work, he was on the front porch, in one of the rocking chairs, waiting for me.

“You must be tired, Rozochka,” he would say. “I made dinner for you.”

He did. He made dinner for me every single day. But he didn’t stop there. He was never a good sleeper, so he was usually up with the birds, waiting for my alarm to blare, so that he could come to my room and give me my coffee.

“Pa, you don’t have to. Really.”

He would just smile at me and shuffle off back to the kitchen, where I knew he was already making my lunch.

“I put something nice in for you, pet.”

Every day there was something nice. At first it was candy, then after I told him I don’t eat sugar, he started making fruit salad from scratch. Sometimes he’d put in a note, in summer it would be a flower from the garden. Once he put in a book because he thought I might want to read on my break. I should have been happy, and I was, but it was too much. I could never reciprocate enough, not that he expected me to. He never expected anything, but he followed me around like a shadow.

“You want to watch movie, Rozochka?”

“Cup of tea, Rozochka?”

“Rozochka?”

“Rozochka?”

I should have watched more movies with him. I should have hugged him more often, longer, closer. I should have said “thank you.” Instead, I bought him a paint set.

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Quick how-to: overcome a writer’s (or painter’s) block

Hi everyone,

As per usual, I’m not going to write a comprehensive guide on how to overcome the beast that keeps us from finishing (or even starting) that next (or first) novel. I just want to share with you an unexpected way I broke my own dry spell.

No, unfortunately I have not written another novel. Not yet. But I’d managed, after two months of being frozen in limbo, to paint another portrait. It’s not quite finished, but I wanted to share it anyway.

I can’t tell you what a relief it is to finally break a spell that was hanging over me – I just could not finish another painting I started. I was stuck. I’m not sure if it was fear that I don’t know what I’m doing or boredom of having gone just far enough. Maybe both. Maybe that’s why I have not finished the third novel in Isa Maxwell series – I got to a certain stage and just was not sure or interested in going through the polishing up stage. So I decided to move on from the not-quite-finished painting and try something new. Here it is, in case I forget it altogether.

Not only that, the portrait above is a character for a new novel, and in a completely new genre, a blend of a psychological thriller with some knife-to-the chest drama. Fingers crossed, I will get into it soon enough – the characters are starting to talk in my head, which is what I loved so much about writing my first two books.

So if you find yourself stuck or struggling to continue – maybe don’t. Put the draft in a drawer and start something new. Who knows, maybe it will lead you on to a completely new path. I hope mine does.

Wish me luck!

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The one I almost threw away

I have been super busy. Interestingly, it’s easy to work hard when you love what you’re doing and all you get is positive feedback and nobody yet giving your work a one-star review, publicly wishing that they could burn it. However, I am also learning just how frustrating art could be. So frustrating, in fact, that I wanted to throw my last painting into the garbage bin:

Persistence 11

Yep, this one almost did not happen, because at some point I’d decided that I just can’t. Freaking. Blend. Acrylics:

Persistence 3

It was late at night. Josh went to bed, after trying to cajole me for an hour to give it a rest, which is not something I do often. I finally gave up and decided that this one was not to be. Some famous painter said that he was happy if one out of ten paintings was good, so the next morning I started playing with it. Then an amazing thing happened – because I had already written this particular piece of canvas off, I was no longer scared to try bold colors and fearless highlights. And somehow, (I am once again completely puzzled at how this happened), I made a painting at which I just. Can’t. Stop. Staring.

This is my number four and the first one that has a name. Persistence. Because she taught me not to stop and now that I know, I will continue no matter how ugly the progress stages get. I didn’t even take the most shocking one, where I scraped back her cheeks. Here are the ones I did take:

Thank you Persistence. I won’t forget.

 

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In other news: it turns out I can paint

Somehow, I have managed through over 45 years not knowing this. Then as previously moaned, I hit a deep well of dark depression and decided to try my hand at  painting with acrylics. It’s now three weeks later and I have just finished my third ever portrait on canvas:

My family is in a state of what I can describe as a “proud shock.” I am shocked too, because in fact my whole life I was convinced that I’m absolute rubbish at painting. I can now remember a mandatory art class in high school that may have prompted this self-belief – my old-school Soviet teacher yelling at me, because I just couldn’t get the point that the shadows are supposed to be purple. Once I got that, he stopped yelling, but I guess the damage was done. I have made sculptures before, but my artistic efforts have so far been limited to drawing princesses and unicorns on request. Even choosing a colour for walls was a drawn-out, painfull process of buying and painting on samples of no less than 11 shades of grey. When I started painting three weeks ago, I was hoping to just get my mind off the stress and the recent series of unfortunate events. My first painting was crap:

However, one magical thing did happen – I loved painting it. And I wanted to paint more. And true to myself, I wanted the next one to be better. So I watched a bunch of YouTube tutorials, bought some more paint and the next one was indeed a bit better:

So I watched more tutorials, bought more supplies, and the result surprised me. If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen the painstakingly slow progress shots, if not – here they are. Cause progress is fun!

Speaking of progress, I now have my husband’s agreement to indefinitely delay converting one of the two living rooms in the new old house into an awesome master bedroom. Because it is already awesome as my studio:

That’s all for now. I didn’t get a chance to write a post about Amazon ads, but will do so when I get temporarily sick of painting, which could happen. Hope it would be only temporary, if it does.

I also hope that if you suddenly remember someone yelling at you as a kid, something about how you could never do X, that you would immediately make plans to try X at the earliest opportunity. You never know what may happen.

 

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