Monday, April 12, 2010

Rebelling Against Reality

Tonight I'm attending a poetry reading by former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, so I thought I'd tie an excerpt from his book Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps. Then I'll try to tie everything back to food and cooking.

I like to get outside and paint pictures in the early spring. I suppose it's my way of trying to be a tulip, pushing my way out of the tight white bulb of winter and opening a little color against the darkness.

I've converted my '92 Mercury Topaz into a rolling art studio so I can paint wherever I can park, and in all weathers. I built a small plywood table over the passenger's seat for my palette, paints, and brushes, and a Masonite easel that fastens over the steering wheel. For a week I've been out making watercolor sketches and was blessed to observe the first greens coming on in the roadside ditches. On the first day everything was the dusty deer-hide brown of late winter. On the second day I would begin to see traces of green in the sunnier spots. And by the third, there was green everywhere. Though I'm an amateur painter and my poor mixing isn't good enough to perfectly capture this transition, my first day's sketch, of a field of corn stubble, looks like late winter and the third day's, of a couple of big bales in the shelter of some trees, looks like early spring. That's accomplishment enough for a Sunday painter in his sixties.

While I was parked by the road, a farmer pulled out of the lane to a farmhouse about a quarter of a mile away and drove slowly toward me in his pickup. When he got up beside me, he stopped, rolled down his window, leaned out, and asked if I needed any help. He looked to be about my age. "No," I said, "I'm just painting a picture." I could tell by the look on his face that he'd never run into anything quite like that before, but he just said "Oh," as if it happened every day, and rolled up his window, tight enough to seal tin his sense of the way things ought to be. then he drove to the next corner, turned around, came past me again, and turned back into his lane.

I like the notion of a car being converted into an art studio. In fact. I love seeing something being used for a purpose different than intended. The missile silo that becomes a home. The propane tank that's becomes bbq smoker. The sinner that becomes a saint.

I guess, this is one of the reasons I decided to use my car to cook earlier this year. My potatoes turned out well, but later I tried baking a flatbread. It didn't go so well. It didn't help that I tried this during a snow storm, which extended my drive to work by 20 minutes and cooled my ambition to stop, get out of the car, and flip the foil-wrapped bread on the manifold.

When I arrived at school, I removed the foil pouch from my car's engine. I could smell the pungent char of the burned bread. Even though it was the smell of failure, I was giddy. Giddiness accompanied with failure makes no sense, but I trace my joy to the satisfaction that comes with rebelling against reality, a reality that dictates that I shouldn't bake bread underneath a car hood and a reality that dictates that we shouldn't take time from more pressing matters to paint tulips.

How do you rebel against reality?

march to your own beat,


muddywaters said...

Visit the link to Ted Kooser's website, and you'll find a video of him reading and discussing his poetry. I've watched the first 2-minutes, and within that timeframe, you learn a lot about the man. I like people who don't take themselves too seriously.

Jenni said...

This was a terrific post. I love the image of this poet parking his car somewhere to paint. Sometimes I get upset with myself for not taking the time to take photos. When I do take the time, I'm always rewarded, not just with the end product of pretty pictures but by the process and how it requires me to slow down and appreciate things. Painting requires slowing down even more and paying closer attention to the small details.

Finding new and unusual uses for old, familiar items fascinates me as well. I especially love art and architecture that does this. (Google earthships for an example in architecture.) There is something profoundly beautiful to me about taking some broken, discarded item and making it new and lovely again.

Time to click that link and check out Ted Kooser's poetry now.

Anonymous said...

I try to ignore gravity whenever possible.

Kooser is a national treasure.