Sunday, July 11, 2010

Vanitas and vandalism

The coffee table we use in the family room was my parents' when I was little. We can assume I was not supposed to write on it (or any other furniture). One day when I was six or seven my mother yelled at me for something, the details of which I no longer remember. In a fantastically passive-aggressive act of rebellion, I responded by writing on the table. On its underside. This act went so unnoticed by my mother that she didn't even know about it until I showed it to her, here in my family room.

It says #1 Daddy. I was really, really mad at my mom.


In the traditional still life genre, each element of the composition has its own symbolism. Fruits and vegetables or flowers and plants that do not grow in the same season are painted on the same canvas as a meditation on the passage of time. Bones, often skulls, are included as reminders of our mortality. Trinkets, jewels and books represent a family's values, wealth, power and educational status. Wilting flowers, rotting fruit, spilled wine all too indicate the passage of time, the impermanence of all things on this earth. Still lifes represent a patron's status in society and serve as a reflection that all material goods are but temporary acquisitions.

Spills to wipe up, the impermanent value of our material goods and reflections on mortality: if I presented the argument that I'm describing a meditation on parenthood, would you be able to argue against me?


The skull in this photo is from what E calls her pirate shirt, and is modeled by my Hudson bear. G's pacifier hangs on the top of the bananas and L's stethoscope wraps among the apples and avocados and the spilled milk was knocked over by Buzzy Bee, a beloved toy from my own childhood. Because, I figure, if anybody has a right to make a mess on this table, it's me -- I've already been doing so for at least 25 years.

Both girls contributed the jewels and the robot that hangs off of the green bucket is G's, as is the dinosaur sampling the watermelon. The green bucket and leaves are from L's room, and the purple pashmina that provides the foundation for the still life is E's. The board books are communally owned. The milk is organic, and the lovely husband thinks I'm crazy when I do things like spill expensive milk on furniture on purpose, but his support of even the crazier things I do is exactly why he's so lovely.

All of this is to say, if you're reading in a feed reader would you kindly click through just today? The kids helped me compose a still life, and now I have a new masthead. I'm a little in love with it, if I do say so myself. I hope you like it, too.

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