My Dad and Me

I don’t have many photos of me with my dad as many had gotten lost over the years and I have lived in the UK for over 20 years and don’t visit the USA much these days.

The larger photo is me with my dad at our first house in NJ.  I still remember the address and the layout although I don’t remember this photo being taken.  I was probably about one and my dad was about 22 yrs old.  How young is that to be a dad!  People got married young in those days.

The photo of me with my dad with the black car is my favourite, and one of his also.  I was about 2 yrs old.  The car was a black Chevy convertible with red leather interior.  I remember that car.  My dad used to sit me in his lap when he was driving and let me ‘steer’.  Sometimes I did it standing up.  Hey!  People did things like that in those days!  There were no seatbelt laws.  Anyway, the house in the photo was my grandparent’s and it was right behind the house in the larger picture.  That is my great-grandmother in the background.  I vaguely remember her.

The other photo was taken just before my dad took me out for an epic ride on his motorcycle.  I was in my 30’s (that is all I’m saying) in my fit and skinny days!  I also used to live in the house next to the house in the background.  It belonged to my stepmother’s mother and I lived with her for about a year.  The house in the photo belonged to very nice neighbours with boys.  They were too young for me. 🙂  By the way, all three houses are in the same town!

My dad’s motorcycle riding days are over now since he totalled his last bike in an accident that he saw coming a few years ago.  He is 73 now.  Yeah, my dad is cool!

My dad worked his butt off over the years just to keep a roof over the head of his family and put food on the table.  He worked at a butcher’s, as a mechanic in a garage when they used to be attached to the Petrol station, he drove trucks across the country, he worked in a riding stable, just to name a few things.  Sometimes he would have several jobs on the go.  He also went to night school to learn how to be a draughtsman and design and read blueprints.  He became a carpenter, builder and finally project manager for major building projects.  He has built bridges, hospitals, schools and houses.  He is a very handy guy.

My dad is also a very talented artist, so maybe something got passed along that I didn’t realise until now.  My dad has always been an active person, which I why I think he has retained a youthful (some would say immature) attitude to most things.  He sent me a farting card for my birthday, for example.

My dad has always enjoyed sports and would always be happy to play games with us and teach us things.  I grew up to be a bit of a tomboy.  My dad taught me how to play football (American), baseball, play tennis, to ski, to fish, and ride a bike.  We also used to go bowling a lot as there was a bowling alley near where we lived.

Being the eldest and only girl had its advantages and disadvantages.  I did get to have my own room ultimately!  However, I had to be responsible for my younger siblings.  I was Daddy’s girl though and he used to take me everywhere when I was small.  He put me on a horse when I was 2 and I would sit in front of him holding onto the pummel on the saddle while the horse would be galloping at full speed!  I loved it!

I think of my dad as Action Man.  Always busy and working, there was no time for idleness, but he would still have time for his family.  One of my favourite memories I have of my dad is when he used to come home from work, he would go and have a shower and get cleaned up for dinner.  I remember sitting on top of the loo (with the seat down of course!), my dad with a towel wrapped around him and having a shave (with a double-edged razor!), while I told him about my day at school.  My dad always took care of himself and made sure he had clean hand and nails, nice clean clothes and shaved every day.  Construction work is dirty work, but my dad always made an effort at the end of  his working day.  I think my mother appreciated it too.

My dad was and still is quite involved with church matters and also has hobbies.  Retirement doesn’t seem to have slowed him down too much.  Well, maybe just a little, but now he really has more time to do things he wants to do.

My dad has had many challenges in his life that he has had to overcome.  I have learned so much about him this last year while I was researching the family tree and helping my daughter compile information for her dissertation.  As an immigrant, he had to learn a new language.  He immersed himself in the American way of life.  My mother’s mental health issues created other challenges, and that eventually took its toll on him and they had to separate.  Fortunately my dad met someone who he could have a happy life with.  Initially there were challenges for all of us, but my step-mother eventually became one of my best friends.  I don’t know what I would do without her.  At least I know she is there for my father while I am far away here in the UK.

I may not see much of my dad these days, but we do talk on the telephone.  If only I could get him to use the computer and get on Skype!

I consider my dad to be one of my heroes (I don’t have that many) and in spite of some of his quirks and irritations –  we all have them, I would consider myself lucky to be involved with someone with half his attributes.

So here’s to you Dad, Happy Father’s Day!  Wish I could be there! xx

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Art is the new Tango!

I can’t believe I just wrote that.  And I never thought I would have a passion for anything outside of Argentine Tango.  Admittedly, my passion has eased off since I moved to Eastbourne over a year ago.  There is no Argentine Tango to be had here in Eastbourne.  I have had to make do with other dances, go back to old favourites, and try a new one.  As a social dance, Argentine Tango is my preferred dance of choice as it is not just about the dance, it is about the music and the connection with another.  If you want to know all about my passion for this wonderful dance and the music that inspired it, please have a look at my other blog.

I suppose something had to give.  Maybe the passion for dancing was to fill a void.  Salsa, Ceroc/LeRoc, and Bellydancing don’t quite reach the part of me that the music of Argentine Tango does.  It touched my soul.  The other stuff is just for fun and gives me a happy vibe, but it is a fleeting thing.   However, dancing has now taken a back seat to drawing and painting.  I still dance, but it isn’t that important anymore.

I discovered painting after a break up earlier this year.   You see, I never thought I had it in me, but it seems I do.  Other people seem to think so too, and I’ve been offered a place at my local college for the Art Foundation Course.  So, now I am doing things with regard to painting and drawing as I did when I was learning to dance Argentine Tango.  I looked at resources on the internet.  I am reading books.  I go to a couple of classes.  I am painting and drawing something everyday.  It is my new obsession.  I used to laughingly say that Tango was my life, and that was because I danced 5-6 times a week for three years!  I have enough Art Supplies, I could open up my own shop. Instead of buying Tango shoes and clothes, I buy paint and pencils and I just ordered some paper stretchers!

Right now I am painting anything and everything, but mainly naked people, fruit and veg, and flowers.  I have done a few abstracts and have a few ideas to work on over the summer.  I was given a project to do for the Foundation Course which will be reviewed tomorrow.  I am learning in a way that I always like to learn something I am interested in, and that is by immersing myself totally in it.  Unlike dance, there is a lot one can actually learn and apply to one’s art by reading books and watching videos on the internet.  Although most artists that pass on information have developed their own techniques or methods of doing things, the foundations are generally the same for everyone.  I have realised that as in dance, less can be more when developing a piece of work.  As I am unskilled and still finding my feet (so to speak), I still need to learn about how things work and how to put things together, in my own way.  Hence the Foundation Course.  In the meantime, I am teaching myself things from books and trying out different methods of doing things, making a note of it and disregarding stuff I don’t like.  I have a lot of time to do this before the classes start in September.

I have been an art lover from an early age.  I used to love watching my father paint and draw.  He could do it with either hand.  His skill overshadowed my desire to pursue anything with Art, except to appreciate it.  When I was 17, my English Class took a trip to New York to visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  It was my first ever visit to an art museum.  It was a glorious summer day.  Most of my classmates bunked off into Central Park to hang out and go drinking while a few of us actually went around the Museum.  I was overwhelmed by the beauty of what I saw.  I guess you could say that was the day my soul was touched by Art.  From that day, I would visit Galleries and Museums every chance I got.  When I actually lived in New York, I was in Art Heaven.  I could walk to the MOMA on my lunch break!  When travelling, I will generally try to visit a gallery or museum.  I find it difficult to be indoors though when the weather is so nice, so I enjoy the Architecture instead, which is sort of like Art.  Living in London for over 20 years was wonderful for all of the lovely Art and Architecture to be found.  Now I live in a genteel seaside town that has a wide variety of creative people in the vicinity – and we have an Art Gallery, The Towner.  Living by the seaside and the The South Downs is very inspiring.   I have taken many lovely photographs of the area.  I am sure I will find some inspiration that will get me to produce a piece of work because of what I have seen or felt.

Right now, I am having a lot of fun working with colour.  I have been using a lot of it in my interior decorating, and now I am using it to paint.  I am not interested in painting something ‘life-like’.  I want whatever I make to be more than what it is. Without going into crappy and pretentious Artist’s jargon, I want to bring more to a picture than what I see –  because I not only see what I am painting, I feel it and strangely have a connection to it – even to the fruit!  The melon I painted today came out differently because of the variations in the colours of the different mediums I was using.  However, it got more vibrant.  The fruit became more than what it was.  It is strange, but I am having fun! And I am happy!

And isn’t being happy and having fun what life is all about?  🙂

Who am I and What (the heck) am I Doing?

It’s a question I ask myself regularly.  Sometimes I say it to myself in a contemplative way and other times in a more negative way – like ‘Arlene, what the hell do you think you are doing?!’  I sometimes scold myself for trying new things and not having a ‘real’ job.

If I look back on my life, I have realised that I have always been working at something ever since I was small.  I helped look after my little brother when he was born and I always had some sort of job, paid or otherwise, since I was 13.  Even when I have been ‘unemployed’, I have always been doing something.  I am not an idle person, it just looks like it sometimes.  I think we are ingrained with this idea that to be a productive human being, we need to earn money.  Let’s face it, begging for money is the least desirable way of earning a living.  There is an ingrained distaste to seeing someone doing that.  It obviously isn’t a ‘real’ job to most people.  I don’t think it would go down very well in a social situation, especially at dinner or cocktail parties –  ‘I beg for a living, what do you do?’

Then we have labels we give ourselves depending on what we do: Firefighter, Secretary, Doctor, Nurse, etc.  I don’t think beggar would go down very well on a CV.  We also give ourself labels depending on our situation or family circumstances:  Married, Divorced, Separated, Single, brother, sister, mother….you get the picture.

I have been and done so many things and I still am a lot of other things too!  As soon as I gave birth, I became a mother.  Once a mother, always a mother.  My job for many years was mothering, or parenting to make it more general.  Although my duties as a mother have been reduced considerably now that my children are grown up, I am still called/roped in occasionally for mothering services.  When my children have children, my job will double up to mothering and grand-mothering services.  The jobs just never end.

I haven’t had a full-time job since the end of 2008 when my company decided to call it a day and make us all redundant.  At that time I was a PA/Office Manager.  It sounded more impressive than when I worked part-time a few months later in a clothing store as a Sales Assistant (or Retail Therapist as I liked to call myself).  Since I sold my house and moved to Eastbourne, I haven’t worked for money.  I was busy sourcing contractors and project managing the work on my home.  I have been researching my family tree and history and reconnecting with family I never met or hadn’t seen in over 20 years.  I have been taking photographs, writing, and more recently I have taken up painting – not just the walls in my home, but pictures.

At first I don’t think I was very good.  In fact, I know I wasn’t.  What I lacked in skill, I had bucket loads in determination and enthusiasm.  If you want to see my progress, I have a page set up on this blog called Trying New Things.  I think I am getting better.  I am painting something every day.  As well as my camera, I now take a sketch pad and something to draw with when I go out.  I try to go to a couple of art classes every week, a life drawing class and a still life class.  The lady who hosts the classes is very encouraging.  I have been buying books on how to draw and paint from the second-hand book store and the charity shops.  I can probably open an art shop of my own.  I want to try to use everything and see what it does.  I am like a sponge, soaking up everything that comes my way and then I try to filter some of it out and try to make something of my own.

I am inspired by family and friends to keep painting and try everything.  In fact, I had an interview last Thursday with the local college to see if I can get a place on the Art Foundation Course.  The phone conversation leading up to the interview wasn’t very encouraging, but I was determined not to leave the place without a course to take, even if I had to stage a sit-in.  Fortunately, the tutors liked my progress, enthusiasm and bold use of colour.  I have been offered a place and start in September! 🙂

I have been given a task and need to produce 15 pieces in 2 weeks.  I had to look up on the internet how to do two of the things I need to do!  Although it seems daunting, I have ideas floating around in my head already about how I am going to do the work.  I will be starting tomorrow as I had to go out and get some material.  It kinda put me off my stride, so I went a bit mad and drew some Gerberas before they faded away.

23.05.11 - Gerberas - Chalk Pastels on Paper

The reason I want to do an Art Foundation Course is because I will be able to try my hand at a variety of things I have never tried before.  I will get to paint, sculpt, develop film in the photography section, work with textiles and a host of other things.  After all, how will I know if I am good at something or will like it unless I try it?  How will getting an Art Foundation Diploma affect or improve my work prospects?  I haven’t got a clue and so I am just leaving that to The Universe.

In the meantime, I am painting furniture – some for my house and some to sell.  I am getting my photos organised to make into cards, to sell.  I may not be working and earning money, yet, but I am busy and happy with what I am doing, so who knows where that will take me?  As for what to tell people who ask me what I do for a living when I tell them that I am looking for work, it was suggested that I tell them I’m a researcher.  I’m not lying if I tell them that and it means I don’t have to say anything about my personal circumstances and how I came to Eastbourne.  I moved here because I love it and I always wanted to live by the seaside and it was affordable.

So that answers the question about what I have been doing –  mostly having fun and trying new things.  As far as who I am, well, I am a woman with many interests and hidden talents.  If I have to give myself labels, I prefer to use the ones that are not so obvious, such as TangoDiver (I dance Argentine Tango and Scuba Dive, though not at the same time), Dancer (I also dance Salsa, Ceroc and am learning to Bellydance), Writer – currently unpublished, Photographer and now I can add Artist. 🙂