That to Which We Defer

A fuzzy sketch of Gemmy watching TV.

My grandmother’s visiting. Her presence leaves a trail of TIME magazines, pistachio shells, and the sound of game shows. In the evening, though, when the game shows have mostly gone off to bed, she finds other entertainment. She used to watch A & E Biography, but I think now, as her memory weakens, she looks for shows with shorter plot arcs and punchier narration.

Tonight she was watching The Church Channel. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen it. In this house we mostly watch HBO, sports, and crime dramas. But tonight when I came in to bring her pills, I sat on the edge of the bed and listened. And I heard this,

“Who’re you?”

“A child of the most-high God.”

And you know what? I get that. Religion, history, politics; those are other stories. This story is in me.

Neuron Norms, 22″ x 16″, ink, chalk pastel, and acrylic on unprimed canvas and loose-weave cotton, 2010

Whatever we trust most in this world, this universe, this frame of reference…we are that. That which we defer to, that within which we place our own faith. We are nothing less than the progeny of our own inspiration.

Even when I’m grumpy, even when I’m frustrated and failing, I am what I take comfort in.

Krumholz Lodgepole, Spooning Boulder by Carla Roybal, 2012

Lodgepole pines twisting in the krumholz of the High Sierra. The smell of sage in my own mountainsides. The slow seeping of ink into unprimed canvas. The memory of every artist that ever came before me, those concurrent to me, and those who will follow after. The feeling of my family and the ones I have found along the way to add to that collection. My butt on the cushion in meditation while each little neuron explodes in madness and wisdom.

I am a child of the most-high God.

Things to Draw: Sculpture

My grandmother gave me this prompt, after some protest. She wanted more specific instructions than “anything.” When I unfolded the paper with the word sculpture written on it, I had no idea what to do. Of course…my grandmother–innocuous, old, affectionate–would saddle me with a conundrum: something simultaneously concrete and abstract, which manages to be both an idea and an object.

I often think of my grandmother as somewhat absent. She is losing her memory, and it is easier sometimes to relate to questions repeated to the point of absurdity as the whimsy of a “crazy old lady” than to admit that entropy is stealing from me some one I have known all my life. This prompt is a reminder that the quick and clever lady who used to tickle me when I wasn’t looking and tease me when I was grumpy (“Better be careful…if you make that face you’re gonna get stuck that way!”) is still my grandmother, even if these days she mostly asks where my cousins are or what day of the week it is.

In the end, I chose to draw a sculpture that belongs to Gemmy, that she bought with my grandfather when they were a young and glamorous couple in the world of design, running a successful architecture firm and filling their house with strange and beautiful art objects. I have no idea who made this sculpture. It is cast bronze, and for most of my life I thought it was abstract, but I discovered today when I was looking at it more closely that it is actually an open-mouthed face seen from above. Still, I chose to draw it how I remember looking at it when I was little, staying overnight for an adventure with my worldly and exciting grandparents. It was mysterious and slightly monstrous, but friendly, a part of my family, as art has a tendency to become.