A Small Town Upbringing

 

The water forms an untouchable membrane of stillness; I know that now’s not the time to speak. Penetrating the sound barrier of empty throats and subdued maneuvering would dispute all that the old man across from me instructed. Among the murky and hidden water, the diminishing foliage and undeveloped skies, this is home.

The day started at 6:30 on a Sunday morning, shortly followed by the pitching of bare necessities into the rear of a beat up suburban. We packed for a fishing trip but we headed south, on towards the dense residential areas. I recount the reason I’m here, feet sewn into black high tops, arms encircling my knees, as I try to understand what’s going through the mind of the furrowed brow opposite me. Meandering from his failing black hair to his now white sideburns, permanent forehead horizons met with dense curls of untamed eyebrows, and finally to the oversized bags beneath his strained eyes as if drawing a portrait from one feature to the next. My old man’s oblivious of my curious eyes, focusing on the loop of a wire, the habit of stringing through shiny rings, biting off and securing lines with the help of teeth who have only seen metal wires through that of hooks, never braces or brackets.

 Rattlesnake Ranch, KS

Suddenly life appears all around us; we are no longer the only two floating across water lacking direction or current. A quick hand gesture creates a wave of hungry mouths and determined wrestling. The sea erupts. Slapping water. A battle of dominance occurs outside the chipped green vessel. I watch in awe, though this isn’t the first time. His expression doesn’t change, except for the smirk he gives after seeing my smile at the underwater fight club that’s happening around our narrow lifeboat. In that moment, I realize this place has and always will be his home too. Not just because of my attendance, but also the hundreds of catfish feeding off his mere presence.

            Every kid knows the hushed tones and slightly argumentative conversation between parents in the dining room that screams something’s up. In my case, the debate was over our soon-to-be home. Plans for it had long been drawn up, but the recent decision of a local doctor to build a Spanish Eclectic[1] villa below the pond’s dam erased every hope. What would soon be an empty carcass of auburn tiles and arched entryways with a white for-sale sign stranded outside was the cause of relocation for my family. An inconsideration for the surrounding environment is the reason our Sunday escapades are road trips towards what could have been, instead of a step out our backyard onto the beige boulders overlooking a glittering sea of blue.

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The commotion dies down and I cast my line. Fitted in the best of the bait box, with an angle back and jolt forward, the vibrant decoration of plastic settles towards the bottom as I begin the game of chase and catch. A steady reel of clear cord becomes a tug and settle, immediately following the bite. You let the fish believe it’s winning the war, persuading it towards you while decreasing the slack in the process.

In a community with no other large undeveloped land[2] exists an empty lot consisting of a dented canoe and muddy size 9 and 12 Chuck Taylors lying near the bank. And on Sunday mornings you will find that dented boat filled with patience, life lessons, the occasional “boy talk,” and two people who share a difference of 34 years. They will be occupying a small portion of water, surrounded by houses of people whose net worth more than doubles the average Kansan[3]. You will see an old man with tired shoulders, trying hard to relive childhood days of fishing in a town of nearly 16,000[4] when life was so very different than how it is now. He will be admiring his work of 18 years, with her matching bony shoulders and he will be hoping in that moment that he did and said all he could before letting her go.

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We lean closer towards the surface as I reach out to grab the taut line. Gripping below the gills, away from the whiskers that have stung me all too many times before, I squeeze the tool to secure the metal, twist, push, and pull. This is the part that separates me from most girls my age, the actual grasping of five pounds of naked black and blue skin that blends into the background with the glimpse of a gray underbelly. He won’t admit it to me, but he’s proud. The cat mutely mouths the desperation to breathe. A quick display to the old man, then I shift my weight yet again to lean over, seeing my reflection and that of the wide-eyed creature in my grasp.

 

[1] “Architectural Styles: Spanish Eclectic.” Windermere. Windermere Real Estate, 2011. Web. 16 Sept. 2014.

[2] “Leawood, Johnson County, Kansas Land for Sale.” LandWatch. DataSphere Technologies, Inc, 2011. Web. 16 Sept. 2014.

[3] “Willow Lake Estates, Leawood, KS.” Realtor.com. Move, Inc, 2013. Web. 16 Sept. 2014.

[4] “Current Great Bend, Kansas Population, Demographics and stats in 2014, 2013.” Suburban Stats, 2013. Web. 16 Sept. 2014. 

 

 
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"Best Places to Raise a Family"

 

Kansas City. Missouri or Kansas? I was technically born in Missouri, but grew up in Kansas. In high school, if a party was busted, kids were known to flee across the state border to avoid one state's police...

 

 
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A Town in the Middle of Nowhere

I entered the country knowing one word & I left the country knowing one word...

"Ciao."

 

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The Only Woman for Miles

 

The state, which feels like its own country, exists about ten years in the past. The cars, the buildings, and the technology. I knew that I'd gone back in time the morning that I walked into Blockbuster video store...

 

 
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Escape to the Outdoors

 

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An Artist Alone in a Museum

I escaped the brisk air and grabbed a paper map on my open-mouth journey towards a maze of doorways. With a mother who’s an artist, I’ve been to many art museums in my life. But like a kid in a candy store, there’s nothing better than walking into a new museum. The Tate Britain was relatively empty, besides the hourly guided-tours and occasional group of snickering teenage girls. It was still pretty early in the morning. With a scuffed sketchbook held protectively in my grasp, I began my greeting of each canvas. The secret to being a true admirer of art is giving each work its own deserved appreciation.

Despite my confident walk through each hallway, I couldn’t tell you 3/4ths of the artists that have work in the Tate. I can, however, tell you my favorites: JMW Turner, John Singer Sargent, Dante Rossetti, Francis Bacon, and William Blake (to name a few). One thing that art history professors always remember to emphasize is the fraudulence of the art on each slide of their PowerPoint’s. “This,” they say while pointing to the large projection, “this is not art.” The first time I heard this, I was pretty stumped. Later, they explained how a photo of artwork does nothing to represent the piece itself, that it takes traveling to see the art in person to really understand it. An example of this is in size. “57x93 inches” it said, as I leaned forward in my auditorium seat and squinted to read the fine print. I couldn’t understand the vastness of the painting until I walked into JMW Turner’s own gallery room. A heavy wooden frame added to its expansiveness and the forceful composition froze me.

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But where was the crowd? Where were the tourists and massive groups accidentally taking photos with the flash on? There were individuals in the room, but none were looking at the masterpiece: “Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps.” There was no divider, no rope or sheet of glass to separate me from the painting. So I gratefully stood less than a foot away from the landscape, hands clasped behind my back, and allowed my eyes to search for cracks and sections of thick paint. In another gallery, when I sat down to sketch the image in front of me, I witnessed not one, but two tour groups pass by the painting without the guide even mentioning the artist’s name! John Singer Sargent’s subject, Madame X, is elegantly posed, staring off into the distant as if begging you to photograph her. There’s a reason Sargent painted Madame X twice, he obviously found her worth documenting. So why didn’t anyone else?

Before I bore you with more names of deceased painters, let me inform you of one more thing. Having witnessed it myself, there’s a distinct difference between a visitor and local inside an art museum. For artists, “home” is at the Met, Nelson, Uffizi, Art Institute of Chicago, etc. Here are a few steps to look like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t: 1. Look at an art piece for longer than five seconds! No need for a staring competition with each painting, just find one that captivates you and acknowledge its beauty. 2. Read the fine print on the card next to it; many curators stayed up late to research the context it contains. 3. If you’re feeling really adventurous, bring a notepad or sketchbook of some kind. Don’t worry, no one will ask to see your drawing. Attempt to sketch the mass of a torso, not just a line down the middle. Challenge yourself to draw more than the ‘stick’ of a ‘stick figure.’ 4. When you’ve doodled enough, rest your fist under your chin, head at a slight tilt, and you already look like a pro. 

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Summer in the City