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Suite for Cello No. 1 in G Major

March 2010

by Michael O’Brien

It’s kind of a gray Sunday morning here at Brook Hollow. Some bird songs I didn’t know woke me
early. The birds know the days are getting longer, that Spring is just around the corner! I know this to be true as well since I’ve had my monster-pike dream, Bob and I casting to a pair of logs in a shallow bay a few weeks after ice-out, and watching the logs slowly swim away from the disturbance of our lures…the biggest fish I’d ever seen. I also saw another harbinger of Spring, the Cubs getting severely whooped by the Sox…so baseball is back!

I put the plaster in the oven to cook a bit more this morning. Yesterday’s day long exercise in melting out the wax hemispheres worked out pretty well I think. The paraffin does stain the plaster a bit, but I’ll see if I can sand that out this afternoon. I started making the shield elements for a new little assemblage yesterday as well, melting paraffin in the arced faces of the broken vase, then melting jeweler’s wire into the backside to support it. Seems to be working well so far. I tried to fly too close to the sun while doing it though. While paraffin is nicely white and variably translucent, I was hoping for a bit of color variation, so I started melting some beeswax too.

Unwrapping the beeswax filled Brook Hollow with the scent of honey, amazing at first, a bit too much after a while. I went over the top when I tried to melt some of it into those same glass-vase forms. The color was incredible, a golden color very close to honey. As I stood with the oven door open (got it a bit too hot and smoked up the place a little) and was breathing in the vaporized beeswax, my body reminded me that the last allergic reaction I had was to bee venom. I remembered the panic, tightness in my chest and trouble breathing from afternoons playing baseball in the “prairie” across the street from where I grew up. I’d run home, gasping and Mom would give me a tablespoon of some cough syrup and take me to Dr. Yahiro. I liked him; instead of a jolt of epinephrine, he gave me my own bottle of coca-cola and a hershey bar! He’d turn out the lights and talk to my Mom and I about controlling my breathing, giving me a cadence to follow, and wait until the caffeine and sugar had defeated my asthma.

So when I had the problem yesterday, I reached for the dove chocolates and a pepsi, seemed to do the trick, but left me feeling kind of worn out. Which is the long way around of saying the plaster is baking and I’m breathing well.

I took on the task of putting up 27 little canvases I’ve been piling paint on the last month or so.

It’s kind of tricky since the wall isn’t flat and, working alone, the challenges of drawing a level line some eight feet long are more imposing than a person might think. I tried to use a high tech vacuum-adhered laser level thingy to project a laser line across the wall, but being that the wall was bowed, the line didn’t make it the full distance. So I went back to basics: a four foot masons level, folding wood ruler, pencil hammer and nails.

Each of the tools used in the basic approach made me think of who gave me the tools, how they gave them to me, and how perfectly old memories fit your hands. The level is mahogany with inlaid brass edges. It was the first tool Erin and Maggie gave me. I remember their eyes as they handed it to me. I was really excited to receive it; a level that long made of nice wood and brass was a luxury I wouldn’t have indulged in myself. I don’t get to use it often, but remember leveling ground with it in the backyard on Lee Street, setting the first joists of Dad’s cabin addition with it, leveling cabinets in my office, the ghost ornament stencils here at Brook Hollow and today, my composition of three rows making 27 places for the canvases.

As I was marking out the locations for the nails, Melody Gardot sang, “why you wanna leave when it’s so easy just to stay,” which stopped me in my tracks. I lost the level line and had to start over. But the lyric says something about the power of momentum. Each painting, done each morning, was an exercise in overcoming inertia. Inertia is resistance…and I believe it to be what holds back so much change.

Inertia comes in many flavors…the “its cold and I don’t want to get out from under the covers” flavor (overcome with wool socks)…the “I’m not an artist, what I do isn’t art” flavor (overcome by painting, not making art)…the “supply store is too far away”…(just deal with it) the “it might be a mistake,” “I might mess it up,” “it won’t be like I expect it to be”…which I think can only be overcome by actually acting.

Action is never without risk. I’ve told my students (and myself) “when in doubt…act…you seldom get anywhere sitting on your bottom…as long as you are falling on your face when you fall, you’re moving in the right direction.” I do believe this; we have to act to overcome inertia, whether the goal is to intensify where we are, or move towards where we think we need to be…and make no mistake, there will be casualties…a stubbed toe moving towards the canvas in the early morning darkness…a wounded ego taking yourself public and finding out that the world really doesn’t notice…safe footing is always risked…and the immediate reward is seldom enough to overcome the discomfort, hurt, and pain you inflict on others by acting….

I read this line once, “I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.”

I can’t say I fully understand that, but have been disappointing people around me pretty regularly…it’s instinct…but knowing I’ve disappointed many…is never far from my surface.

Nothing brings this out more than spring it seems. The lengthening days, flowers appearing, warming temperatures are all signs of renewal. But the springs that weigh on me happened recently, spring of 2007 and spring of 2008 were loss upon loss, each loss getting closer and heavier. And of the three losses, I know only one is mine. The others I don’t lay claim to. But they resonate like aftershocks, sending new waves of panic, anxiety, doubt rushing through. When they happened, you change modes, becoming organizer, resourcer, travel agent, scribe, and belated, if not ineffective protector.

After these roles pass, become unnecessary, whatever there is to feel comes home to roost. I know my mistake was not finding a way to integrate loss in my life when it happened and that my efforts at composing twenty seven in three today won’t be anything helpful in twenty days when my family and four other families try to get through the day, hundreds, thousands of miles apart, not being able to make it feel better, just trying to get through it. A few days later, my brother, sisters and I will do that again, and fourteen days after that, thousands who were in Blacksburg will do the same.

I have a friend who lost his Mom this week. I’m hoping he’ll not do as I did, but take time with his families now.

Spring’s happy, Easter will be celebrated around the world from Stonehenge to Golgatha…the message is from the shortest day to the day of the vernal equinox there is a path of momentum, forward to longer days, more time for growth…which all seems to build off the past year’s life. We’ll see.

Remembering all who’ve lost in spring’s past, I’m with you on those days, I won’t pester you as I know now that each of us has to feel…but…call if you’d like to chat.

Be very good to each other this season.

My best to you.