The Icebreaker

No comments »

It’s 9:30 on Sunday night, and I can no longer hear my next-door-neighbor’s television. He must have gone to bed early.

If he’s home and he’s awake, his TV is turned on and tuned into news. I can’t make out most of what the talking heads are blathering on about, but every so often I hear the word “Trump”.

It triggers my PTED. Post Traumatic Election Disorder.

I’m trying to practice my speech for Toastmasters. This is the first speech a member gives. It’s all about you, I mean me. It’s the “icebreaker” that lets the other Toastmaster members get to know you, I mean me.

I actually gave this speech last month, but we’re having an open house in a couple of weeks to attract new members, and I was asked to give the speech again. I’m not sure that listening to me talk about myself is conducive to signing up new folks, but, I’ll give it a go.

Here’s the speech:

My name is Laurel, and I’m an artist.

That’s a really hard thing for me to say.

I grew up as the sixth of nine children and I was easily lost in the crowd. I always loved to draw, and the praise I got for that made me feel noticed.

I brought home pictures from kindergarten and my mother would gush about how I was drawing fully-fleshed out people instead of stick figures. She would show off the pictures to the neighbor ladies saying, “Look what a wonderful artist my daughter is!”

In a big family like ours, there wasn’t a lot of money for extracurricular activities, but my mother made sure I had art lessons after school. I hiked up to the Motherhouse, a huge convent at the top of a Rochester hill, and got lessons from a nun whose name I cannot remember. It made me feel so special.

In junior high, I drew cartoons for the school paper, and made posters for school events. I designed programs and tickets for school dances. I made banners to hang in the church on special holidays.

In high school, my friends would ask me to draw portraits of their favorite movie stars. At class reunions even decades later, they let me know they still had them and cherished them. I was kind of an art star at my little parochial school.

I was so excited to be accepted at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design after graduating from high school. I moved from Rochester to Minneapolis and prepared to dazzle everyone with my brilliant talent.

Imagine my surprise when I found I was not the most talented student there. All the art stars from all the little high schools were there, and I was pretty average. Not the best, not the worst, just…average.

That was tough enough, but part of our education was critiquing other students’ work. We hadn’t learned the Toastmasters’ sandwich technique of offering constructive criticism sandwiched between statements of praise, so the critiques were often quite…humbling.

I dropped out of art school after one semester. A former high school classmate offered to buy one of my paintings for five dollars. The materials had cost me ten. Does that make me a professional artist?

The other paintings were given as gifts to various friends and relatives, and eventually found their way into closets around the state.

I continued to try to put my artwork out into the world, but it was never accepted into a juried show.

Although I still got lots of positive feedback from most of my loved ones, I remember a particularly awful date I had with my boyfriend. I had a painting of a Native American woman over my couch, and a drawing of a Native American man on another wall.

My boyfriend knew I had created those pictures and I was tired of his total silence on the matter. I asked him point-blank what he thought of the painting.

“The hands look kind of funny”, he said. Ouch. Honestly, they did look kind of funny, because hand are very hard to paint, and the model had left the studio before I’d finished the painting.

I asked him what he thought of the drawing, because I was especially proud of that. There was a long pause, and then he said, “I guess I’m not into Indians as much as you are”.

We broke up the next day. Unfortunately, I seemed to have broken up with art, too, and gave up drawing and painting for years.

Now that I’m retired, I’m getting back into creating artwork. This time, it’s just for me. It’s for my self-expression, and I don’t need to show it to anyone else. I don’t need anyone else’s approval or praise. If I like what I create, that’s all that matters.

I am Laurel, and I am an artist.

Stay tuned…

P.S. Here’s a few beautiful things I made this week:







Meet The Neighbor

No comments »

No.1 Sis and I walked down to the main road, merely yards from our houses, to wait for the bus into The Big City. There was already a man standing there. He was tall and scruffy and had no teeth.



We nodded politely to Mr. No Teeth and wished him a good morning. He realized he was among fellow Americans, and started to tell us his Costa Rica story.

Mr. No Teeth had arrived in C.R. about the same time we did, seven weeks ago. He spent the first week at motel on the Caribbean coast.

I felt some stinging sensations on my feet.

As he was leaving the motel to catch the bus to San Luis, he locked the keys in his room, as per the landlord’s instructions. Unfortunately, he realized too late that he had locked his only suitcase in the motel room, too.

The feet-stinging was getting more frequent. I looked down, and saw that my feet were swarming with fire ants. I shook and stamped my feet to try to dislodge the little buggers.

Mr. No Teeth continued his story without interruption. He narrated how, even though he had locked all his worldly possessions in his motel room, he didn’t want to miss the bus. He left the bag inside and got on the bus, which took him hundreds of miles away.

Meanwhile, the ants were stinging me like crazy. I bent over in half, a feat I can only accomplish in the most dire of emergencies, and started picking ants off my feet and crushing them, one at a time. My alarmed No.1 Sis dug through her backpack and found some bug spray.

Mr. No Teeth continued his story, oblivious to all the panicked gyrations occurring a few feet in front of him.

He indicated the outfit he was wearing. It was, he said, a thirty year old tee shirt given to him by his wife (now ex-wife) and warm-up pants loaned to him by his neighbor.

The ants coughed a little at the the bug spray, and then laughed, crawling deeper into my shoes. I took off my shoes and beat my own feet with them.

Mr. No Teeth called the motel after arriving here in San Luis. He asked the landlord to mail his suitcase to him. It’s been six weeks now, and he still hasn’t received his bag. Imagine that.

I wanted to go up to him, grab him by the thirty year old tee shirt and scream in his face, “You don’t knowingly drive hundreds of miles from everything you own, then ask for it to be mailed to you IN A COUNTRY WITHOUT MAIL SERVICE, YOU STUPID GIT!”

He was fortunate that I was still preoccupied with doing the roadside Hokey Pokey.

The Hokey Pokey. It really is what it’s all about.



Stay tuned…