Saturday, September 5, 2009


I've been thinking a lot about this word, 'mussed,' and the way it rolled off of my grandmother's tongue familiarly and frequently. Growing up, my brothers and I used to spend parts of our summers with my grandparents in Indianapolis. My grandmother insisted upon a pool membership to Meridian Hills Country Club for the socialization of her grandchildren. Those long days at the pool, however, I remember being awfully lonely-- we didn't know any of the other kids and it's just plain awkward to meet people when you're pre-adolescent and in a bathing suit picked out by your grandmother.

But the summers just happened that way, and they always happened that way and my grandmothers documentation of them in her scrapbooks denote only the most joyous moments of the endless hours we spent there: a leap off the high-dive, a wave from the top of the water slide, my brothers and me towel-clad and eating mozzarella cheese sticks from the food stand.

Looking back I realize how controlled those summers were-- Will and I eating the same breakfast every morning, pre-planned play dates with other visiting grandchildren, tennis lessons and the Children's Museum. And in between those activities, always driving in Mimi's car, the windows tightly sealed and air conditioning blasting out of the vents to suppress the mid-western heat and haze. We were never allowed to roll down the windows, even on the most temperate days-- and putting down the top of the convertible was out of the question. My grandmother, a Midwestern woman, had her hair done (sculpted, really) once a week and she insisted that the wind would muss it. After swimming we had to sit on towels in the car, less our wet bottoms muss the leather. Must to avoid mussed. Once I had my fingers in the slightly cracked window and my grandmother rolled up the automatic window. She interpreted my incomprehensible screaming as unnecessary fussing and continued to press the up button. My fingertips were bruised and I wouldn't talk to her for hours-- a total muss.

I wish that my grandmother had loosened the tether, not just on us grandchildren, but on her own appearance and lifestyle too. I found out before she died that she had requested my parents keep her battle with breast cancer from a few years before a secret from us grandchildren, as if grandmother's aren't allowed to have breasts or suffer from a medical condition. I remember her having intense nose-bleeds, which I always attributed what seemed to be her perfect feminine daintiness, not to her anemia or hemophilia. Months before she died a doctor convinced her to trim years off by undergoing a face lift in her early 80's-- my family attributes this decision to her subsequent unraveling of health.

Sometimes I figure out why I make certain drawings after I already start making them-- an awesome realization that I think is only attainable through their repetition and meditation. These drawings of patterns I've been working on, patterns slightly interrupted, speak a lot about how I am coming to understand and interpret the decisions and lifestyle of my grandmother four years since her death. I was struck by the differences in each of my grandmother's homes-- in Mimi's, a commitment to pattern, in Grammy's one to soft pastel tones. I think there's a way to talk about pattern and ritual by showing where it fails-- showing the places where control gives way to secrets, accidents and muss.

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