May 3rd, 2017
Here’s What I’ve Learned From Feeling Blue
Generally speaking, I don’t do blue.
I’ve never bought a piece of blue clothing, never worn blue jewelry, never owned blue suede shoes. It’s just never been my hue.
Until I started painting, that is.
The first time I ever put a brush to canvas was about a dozen years ago, when I was a very tired mom of two very young boys. I’d been itching to do something creative with my brief moments of free time, so I signed up for a six-week evening drawing class. I loved sitting and sketching, thinking about lines and angles and shapes. But as I made marks on the page in various shades of grey, I realized I was longing for color.
So I registered for a Saturday morning beginning painting class. Our first assignment: choose a small object and fill the canvas with the image. The hitch? We could only paint in one color, plus white and black to create shades and shadows. We could choose from red, blue or yellow. My hand hovered over each of the paint tubes as I imagined my New Zealand greenstone necklace in each of the primary shades. Then I settled on blue.
My painting turned out fine – not a bad effort for a neophyte. But my spontaneous color choice that day kicked off a whole new relationship between blue and me. As I started painting regularly, I put blue on every canvas I brushed. If I didn’t under-paint the whole surface in a cool, light blue, then I combined multiple shades of blue to create oceans that were dark and roiling or that glinted with vibrant turquoise. I painted blue vases, blue skies and blue chickens. After a lifetime of ignoring this color, I found myself not just wanting, but needing, some shade of blue in almost every one of my paintings.
As I thought about my newly discovered penchant for blue, it began to make sense. I grew up in New Zealand, an island nation surrounded by water. I watched the ever-changing Pacific Ocean almost every day for the first 16 years of my life, whether driving back and forth to school or spending hours at the beach on the weekends hunting for seashells.
Without quite realizing it, I think that water, which ebbed and flowed with a rainbow of blues, became part of my DNA. In the years that I’ve lived outside New Zealand, the times I’ve been most aware of a nearby ocean, lake or bay is when there isn’t one. Without at least a daily glimpse of liquid blue, I feel left-of-center, fundamentally off. When I lived in the high desert of Santa Fe, the endless, ever-changing skies was my ersatz ocean, but I was perpetually lost in that sandy city with no body of water to help me find my way.
Joni Mitchell was so moved by the spirit of blue that she wrote a song in its honor:
Blue, songs are like tattoos.
You know I’ve been to sea before.
Crown and anchor me,
Or let me sail away.
Hey, Blue, here is a song for you.
(Blue, copyright Joni Mitchell, 1970)
I’m no poet or songwriter, but the least I can do for a color that has inspired, challenged and moved me is this:
Hey, Blue, here is a post for you.
Here’s a recipe for one of my all-time favorite cookies. Actually, since this is a classic New Zealand dessert, let’s call them “biscuits” or “bikkies.” No matter what word you use, I think you’ll like these crunchy, chocolatey treats topped with chocolate icing and a walnut, if you wish.
200 grams butter (almost 2 sticks), softened
½ cup sugar
1 ¼ cups flour
¼ cup cocoa
2 cups Cornflakes (yes, really!)
Chocolate icing (see below)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Sift flour and cocoa into creamed mixture. Fold in Cornflakes until mixture is combined. Spoon 1-2-tablespoon-sized mounds (unless you prefer particularly big or small cookies) of the mixture onto a greased oven tray, gently pressing and flattening a bit. Bake 15 minutes or until set. Remove from oven and place cookies on a cooling rack. When cold, top with chocolate icing:
200 grams cooking chocolate (about 7 oz)
25 grams butter (about 2 Tbs)
½ cup heavy cream
Break chocolate into the top of a double boiler. Add butter and cream. Set over hot water and heat, stirring constantly, until mixture has melted and thickened slightly. Set aside until cool. Beat until thick before using. Note: You can store any extra icing in the fridge or freezer – it keeps for a good long time.
Don’t forget to top with a walnut!
Bull by David Elliott (a Leigh Ann T. review)
Why are myths fascinating? I dog-eared the pages of Edith Hamilton’s Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes until Athena and Artemis were old pals. Maybe the appeal is the universal themes of never-ending warfare, timeless lust and the rapid decision-making by unforgiving gods. Now comes Bull, a teen novel by David Elliott. A brilliant re-telling of Theseus and the Minotaur, this tale is told from different points of view, including the Minotaur. Disclosure: Personally, I’ve always sided with the Minotaur trapped in that labyrinth (my mistrust of heroes fermenting at an early age, I guess), so Elliott’s version removed the mythological pebble in my shoe.
This long poem is broken up different voices including the crafty and spiteful Poseidon, greedy Minos, Asterion (the Minotaur) and Theseus, of whom the book’s Introduction says, “In time they all forgive him.” It’s a curious declaration because, historically, Theseus was the hero who slayed the monster. As Elliott’s poem unspools, however, it is clear Asterion is an ostracized outsider and Theseus has the blessed life. Theseus, his future glory before him, is still a pawn of the gods, and he walks without hesitation into that role. Asterion is a lonely and thoughtful soul, tortured by his identity, or lack thereof. His fate is the cruelest, despite the sacrifices made to him every year, which he doesn’t want or understand. Once Asterion is sealed and he is trapped within his maze, his half-sister Ariadne vows to save him, whispering her familial devotion to him every day. It gives Asterion hope. But Theseus and other players’ agendas wreak havoc on Ariadne’s plan.
Loops of trickery, secrets, adoration and manipulation serve this tale well, and Elliott’s energetic language makes it relevant to his teen audience while still being completely accessible to us full-grown adults. With incarceration, bullying and political machinations dominating the news, Bull stands out as an important and timeless cautionary tale.
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