Who’s That Girl

IMG_4344Recently in the mirror I started noticing something about my face. Mainly that it wasn’t what it used to be, beauty-wise, and specifically that it looked tired.

At first I thought it was simply a matter of staying up too late binge watching Scandal on Netflix, even though it’s turning into musical beds just like my mom always said Falcon Crest did in 1983.

I started making an effort to go to bed earlier and eat more salmon, but still my face looked the same. Eventually it dawned on me that what I was dealing with was less an issue of fatigue and more an issue of this is what I look like now that I’m almost forty-two.

In the next instant I realized that I was just going to keep on looking more and more tired until eventually one day I would die.

The fact of mortality didn’t alarm me nearly as much as the idea of a permanent double chin. It’s one thing to know that you’re going to get older, another entirely to see it manifest on your face.

I don’t really want to look young forever – that would be weird. One day I would like my appearance to belie the wisdom I hope to have gained within, or at least give me free license to shush people loudly.

Still, the realization that time truly marches on is daunting. Not only because we are vain, but because every new wrinkle removes us farther from the age at which we believed that we could do or be anything we wanted.

Despite having written a blog post about it, I’m not actually that depressed about looking older. I mean, I wish I looked better than I do first thing in the morning, around noon, at dinnertime and also right before bed, but I count myself lucky that I don’t have more pressing concerns.

I guess I’m just sort of surprised that it really happens – that one day you literally wake up and the person you see in the mirror does not match up with the person you percieve yourself to be.

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Artist’s Dilemma

I Did Not Draw This

I Did Not Draw This

Today I was reading in the sunroom when I heard a loud buzzing sound. I turned my head to see a gigantic insect ricocheting from window to window and at first I thought it might be a wasp, but when it stopped to rest on the wall I could see that it wasn’t.  It was like a cross between a beetle and a dragonfly and Franz Kafka, and it was quite impressive in that grotesque way that large unidentifiable bugs are.

I killed it with the Yellow Pages.

Then I put the Yellow Pages on top of the dead insect and made a mental note to ask the P-Dawg to remove it when he comes home from work. There are situations in which I will personally remove a bug that I’ve killed, but not if it’s juicy.

I went back to reading my book though there was no longer any joy in it. I knew there was a big dead bug right next to the couch and there was no way I could un-know it. It also occurred to me that instead of killing that bug, I should have tried to draw it.

One thing I feel I don’t do enough as an artiste is draw from life. This is due partly to the fact that I’m fond of mythical creatures like dragons and mermaids. I know that in order to improve, I should practice drawing real things, but the fact is that I’ve been stuck inside the house all winter, the houseplants are dead-ish, and I don’t feel like sketching a bowl of bananas. That bug was the best thing that ever happened to me from a drawing from life standpoint, and I killed it.

Eventually I went over and lifted the phone book just to see if there was anything left for me to work with.

There wasn’t.

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Turn on the TV, Lithuania’s Free

Free LT CarOn March 11th, 1990, I’m in the kitchen eating Ramen noodles straight out of the package when the phone call from my mother comes at dusk.

Ijunk televizij?,” she tells me. “Lietuva laisva.”

My whole family has traveled to Washington to rally at the capital for independence, but I’m home alone, stuck in town for the SATs. Ever since Mikhail Gorbachev started talking about glasnost, Lithuania’s push for independence has been clipping along at a steady pace. Lithuanians in the US are doing their part by demonstrating and lobbying their senators to recognize Lithuania as an independent country. The Soviet Union is losing ground in the face of the grassroots freedom movement, and you can feel it in that air that something’s about to give.

Many Americans are still unaware of the Baltic countries, and some are confused as to why freedom is theirs to demand. After reading a piece in Time magazine comparing the Baltic quest for independence to the southern confederacy and the secession of the southern states, I am incensed. I write an indignant letter to the editor and read Time religiously for a year, anticipating a response. I launch a school-wide Amnesty International letter writing campaign on behalf of Lithuania and parade through the halls wearing my Freedom For Lithuania T-shirt.

But organizing formal protests in Charlotte, North Carolina is difficult for Lithuanians because there are only ten of us. Seeing photos of my camp friends with their picket signs on the pages of the Lithuanian Worldwide Daily was depressing enough already, but now I’ve missed the moment of a lifetime, the thing that every Lithuanian in the world had been awaiting for half a century, but that no one thought could ever come to pass.

Lithuania has declared itself independent, the first of the Soviet occupied countries to do so. People are dancing in the streets of Vilnius and Washington, and Mama tells me they’ve just finished singing a spontaneous rendition of the Lithuanian national anthem in front of the capital, holding hands.

I see it all in my mind’s eye: the flags, the tears, the lighters burning their arcs of triumph in the darkness. It’s almost as though we freed the country ourselves. After hanging up with Mama, I stand alone in front of a flickering TV set and though I only know Lithuania through her language, songs and lore, I weep for her. In my darkened living room with hand over my heart, I sing her anthem, believing well and truly that my voice will amplify the chorus and help this long awaited victory bear its proper weight. All at once, the people I see on TV singing and dancing in the streets are not Dwaynies, but daring revolutionaries in which I feel enormous pride. I want to claim Lithuania’s victory as my own, though when you lay all the facts out on the table, I’ve had nil to do with it.

The declaration alone is not a guarantee of freedom. The Soviet Union imposes an economic blockade on the country immediately, and Lithuania’s newly elected government’s efforts are thwarted at every pass. In January of the following year, after several days of unrest and warnings from Moscow, the Soviet Army is discharged. Soviet tanks storm the capital, zoning in on the area around the national TV tower where thousands of citizens have gathered in peaceful protest. And with the eyes and cameras of the international media trained on the Gulf War half a world away, the Soviet Army kills fifteen civilians and injures hundreds more in a last ditch attempt to reclaim Lithuania as a Soviet state.

We are incensed at the world’s inaction in the face of such valiant struggle. The only country to officially recognize Lithuania’s declaration of independence is Iceland. But within a year, the entire Soviet Union falls and Lithuania is well and truly free.

Technically, independence means my friends and I can stop switching to Lithuanian whenever an adult is within earshot. But this seems somehow wrong, like lying to a substitute. We wonder if we’re really supposed to hang up our crusade capes, to ball up our Freedom for Lithuania T-shirts and chuck them in the trash? Should we still strive to marry Lithuanians and teach our children to folk dance? Are we expected, after all this time, to actually move back? It’s disconcerting, at the righteous age of sixteen, to be suddenly left without a cause. One guy we know switches almost immediately to freeing Tibet.

Much argument and discussion takes place in our immigrant circles about the best way to proceed. Everyone agrees that the fatherland needs money and religion, so relief organizations step up their efforts. Nuns and priests go over to re-sow the seeds of Catholicism, and some of my peers move to Lithuania to participate in her rebirth. My friend Rita helps launch the first Lithuanian Mc Donald’s and Tommy B. Birch Tree moves to Vilnius to open a Mister Chicken franchise. Some retirees cash in their savings and move back, but most decide to stay. Others add stipulations to their wills that they be buried in Lithuania after their deaths. A few Lithuanians, already dead and buried, are dug up and shipped back.


(This has been a short excerpt from my secret, never-to-be-published book ;)

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How To Make Lithuanian Straw Ornaments

As promised, here are steps to make a very basic Lithuanian straw ornament with a four-sided base (šiaudinukas).

himmeli

Okay, these are made from copper tubing, not straw. But the steps are the same!

We are going to use paper straw instead of the traditional rye straw because it’s easier to work with and easier to find, and we’re going to use fishing line instead of thread because when you use fishing line, you don’t need a needle.

Supplies:

  • White paper art straws (you could use plastic as well, but I would judge you)
  • Clear monofilament fishing line (not braided)
  • Ruler
  • Scissors

First, cut twelve pieces of straw so that they are all equal lengths. I recommend anywhere between two to four inches per piece for this first attempt. Be very precise in your measurements because even small differences in length can make the final product lop-sided.

Now cut about and arm’s length of fishing line and string four of the straws onto it, threading them to almost the very end of the line.

Bring the two loose ends of fishing line together and tie them in a knot so that the four straws you strung on the line form a square. From now on, we’re going to call this our “foundation square.”

square

Tuck the short end of the fishing line into one of the straws in the foundation square to hide it.

Now string two more straws onto the long end of the fishing line and tie a knot at one of the corners of your foundation square so that your shape looks like a house with a roof:

house

From now on, we are going to call that roof part an “ear.” (Just go with it.)

Tie another ear onto your foundation square by stringing two more straws onto the end of the fishing line and tying a knot at the next corner of the foundation square. Your shape should look like this:

cat ears

Repeat this process until your foundation square has four “ears.”

IMG_7399

A foundation square with four “ears.”

(When you run out of fishing line, just tie more on making sure to hide the knot you use to secure it within one of the straws.)

When you have four ears around your foundation square, run the fishing line up through one of the ears so that it comes out through the pointy end.

Then tie the ear out of which the fishing line is protruding to the ear opposite from it to form a pyramid. Your shape should look like this:

pyramid

Now thread the end of the fishing line back down to one of the corners of your foundation square and through one of the remaining “loose” ears.

Tie the ear out of which the fishing line is protruding to the ear opposite from it. Your shape should look like this:

IMG_7402

Cute, but not very exciting, is it? This form is the basic building block that, once mastered, makes creating elaborate variations possible. Here are some simple ways to add interest to a basic four-sided ornament:

Use longer straws for two of the four sets of ears:

Use longer straws fro two of the four sets of "ears" to make a teardrop shape. (This is an ornament I made using brass straws.)

Use longer straws for two of the four sets of “ears” to make a teardrop shape. (This is an ornament I made using copper straws.)

Nest a smaller ornament inside a larger one:

Here's a small three-sided ornament nested within a larger one.

Here’s a small three-sided ornament nested within a larger one.

Hang a smaller ornament to the end of a larger one:

An ornament I made using copper straws and pieces of amber.

An ornament I made using copper straws and pieces of amber.

Or use longer straws for the foundation square and shorter straws for the ears:

himmeli ornament closeup 4

You can also hang smaller ornaments from the corners of a larger one:

IMG_6120

The instructions I’ve provided are for making ornaments using a four-sided foundation square, but more elaborate ornaments can be made by making the foundation square five, six, seven, and even eight sided. Alternately, a simple triangle/pyramid shaped ornament can be made using a three-sided foundation.

Good luck.

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