The Brightness of Remembered Love

The story opens with a little girl about 9 years old running out of her house to play hide and seek. The little girl was me, of course. Of all the memories I have in my collection, I keep the cherished ones in a jewel encrusted, hand carved wooden box that sits just up and to the left of my heart. My children’s birth, my marriage, my Father’s death. All of these are contained within that small box. I only open it on special occasions to shake off layers of dust and admire again, the brightness of remembered love.

This is one of those memories.

Playing hide and seek may sound a little mundane but it wasn’t. All together, there were about 50 kids who ran around the subsidized housing complex that summer. And we all played the game. During the day we kept to our own small group of friends. But when night fell, we returned to our roots, crawling out of the primordial soup on wobbly legs, learning to walk, splitting into species, gaining the power of thought, dancing raucously around a fire, eating roast beast, painting our bodies, and running around naked under the stars. Well, maybe not that so much, but we did play hide and seek.

It was curious that we all played together at night when we didn’t during the day. After nightfall, any child was welcome to the game. The big kids, big enough to smoke cigarettes and steal from their parent’s liquor cabinet. And young kids, young enough to need someone to hold their hands when they crossed the street. A truce fell over the legions of the young on those nights. Youthful energy came together in a frenzy when darkness wrapped its wings over the sky.

And I was a master of the game. Somehow, I knew instinctively that if I turned my eyes away from my captor, they wouldn’t see me. I knew that looking at them would draw their eyes to me so I kept my eyes trained at the ground and froze my body like I was fixed in death. Stillness came to me out of some glimmer of innate knowledge that I didn’t understand. Most nights, I was the last one hiding. The big kids didn’t know my name but they called me “that girl.” As in “Did you see where that girl went?” And I might be only a few feet away from them but they couldn’t find me. I was a ninja in a child’s game, a game that did nothing to further the cause of humanity but brought us all together under the stars.

One memorable night, a night that I keep in that little wooden box next to my heart, I saw those glorious northern lights. I was crouched beside a wooden fence, the one that separated Mrs. Lee’s house from the strip mall parking lot. And I happened to look up and notice the lights. Anyone who has ever seen them will never will never forget their splendor. Looking up, sky black as coal, colors streaming across the heavens like the fine silk hair of a Goddess draped over the cosmos and crackling like twigs on a fire.

I sat by the fence and noticed that the shouting of the game had stopped.

Around the side of the house, I saw everyone abandoning their hiding places. We stood in the street with our heads held back, looking up at the sky. We watched the lights streak across the stars. The hide and seek game was finished for the night and we all knew it, and none of us cared.

“Mum. Mum. Come see the lights.” I shouted to her when the northern lights were so brilliant that even the most boorish of the bullies had to stop and admire them.

“I’ve seen northern lights before.” Her voice tired, annoyed. But we’re from the Yukon so I imagine that was true. I had probably seen them as well though I didn’t remember.

“No Mum, come see.” I insisted.

She came to the door, warm light glowing from the inside like a lantern. She walked outside without looking down, her eyes trained on the sky like mine. She let go of the door absently and it squealed shut. And I saw the look of astonishment on her face and I smiled. She wasn’t a cheerful woman when we were young, often tired, often angry, often bitter. But on that night she shared something with me that was only communicated with a look. We smiled at each other and I felt like I gave her the most precious of gifts. Like I had magicked up the lights just for her, just to give her a break in her narrow life.

I remember thinking it was odd on those summer nights that my mother let us play so late into the night. And I’m surprised to realize, with adult clarity, that it was a moment of kindness. I can imagine the ghost of my mother wandering to the door to call us in on a warm July night. But when she saw us playing with all the kids in the neighborhood, she let us continue. Sometimes the games went on until past midnight. And she was happy to let us play. I wasn’t grateful then, but I look back now and see that I should have been.

I took this memory of my youth and many others and slipped them into that box near my heart as if I knew, even as a child, that I would need them. I collected them as people collect salt and pepper shakers or commemorative spoons. I carry my collection inside of me because one day I will no longer be here. And I don’t want to feel like my journey will disappear into the air like smoke although that’s exactly what will happen.

That night with the lights, I belonged to everyone else as much as they belonged to me. All of us, tiny dots on the surface of a rock flying through the chasm of space, an almost invisible streak over the black that means nothing to any force in the universe save us. At that moment, we were one. We were happy to be insignificant, to be the small ants on an anthill together. All the tiny ways we try to best one another, try to exert our independence, argue, bicker, fighting our way to the top to some unknown end. This all disappeared under the lights. We weren’t adversaries anymore. We were all just creatures standing together and it lasted as long as the lights glowed. And it lasted the span of my life. The next day the bullies would be bullies again, the fraidy-cats would be fraidy-cats. We would all resume our place on the totem pole of child seniority. My mother would once again be a tired, angry woman with four ungrateful children. But on that summer night, we each wore one another’s skin and felt the warm trickle of companionship that takes away our differences.

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If you want to read some of my fiction, download my book, Zoo of Human Frailties, for $2.99 USD https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B07YZ123DY

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Standing in front of the Sun

My earliest memory is of my father. But I’m not sure the event is genuine or if it was manufactured in the lonely mind of a girl who wishes she could remember him.

The memory is both simple and complex. I remember being a fat baby and sitting on the floor of our subsidized home in Dickensfield. The close quartered row housing with the thin walls. The home of our poverty, the home of our grief, of loss, of loneliness, the home in which we became wards of the state, dependent on hand outs, sitting at the bottom, filtered to the lowest level, waiting for life to begin or end. This is a simple beginning but it becomes more complex when I realize that it might not have occurred that way. I don’t doubt that it happened but I recognize now that I wasn’t a baby in that house. I was three years old when we lived there. So maybe the memory I have is manufactured from the limited knowledge of my own life and the desire to have a memory of him. The thought of not having that memory is akin to being a bad daughter.

I am sitting on the floor of this home and I look up to see a person walk to the door. This person has no face. He is standing with his back to the sun, a sun that shines so brightly that it washes out all his features and blurs his outline. This, I’m sure, is an erasure of time but not of intention. I’ve lived this moment over so many times that the reliving has knocked off the edges of all the images and deleted essential elements. Because how would I know it was my father standing there unless I recognized his face at one time, even if I don’t see it now?

I have the distinct feeling of joy as I look up and see that it’s him. I reach my arms up. He opens the screen door and embraces me. And that’s my only recollection of him. That one small moment when I felt perfectly safe and wanted to be no where else. Part of me says this didn’t happen because he was never at that house. My mother left him and took us to our new life in Edmonton, leaving him alone in Whitehorse. And we never saw him again. And he never walked through the door of that house. Another part of me says that the details are unimportant, that I filled them in with things that I knew. Like taking a piece of a puzzle and putting it in the earliest house of my memory where it almost fits but not quite. I need to believe in its truth because, other than half a dozen photos, I have nothing left of him, only my reflection in the mirror, the olive skin on my face and the shape of my eyebrows.

I don’t even remember being told that he died. I just remember always knowing. One time, my older brother asked my mother “Dad’s dead right?” and my mother answers yes. “He was hit by a car right?” and she nods. “Didn’t he see the car coming?” and she says “I guess not.” I perked up when I heard this confirmation of something we already knew. We just accepted it as part of our lives. She must have told us what happened but this piece of the puzzle has been lost to time.

Funny, he died two weeks before my little sister was born and I remember that event. I remember being brought to our Godparents house because Mum was having the baby. My creepy Godfather always called me his girlfriend when I was only three years old. I squirmed to get away from him while he held me firmly on his lap and everyone seemed to think it was a great joke that I was his prisoner. But I don’t remember my father dying even though I remember all of this.

As an adult I think how difficult it must have been for my mother, who just lost her husband, to explain death to us, even if her marriage was colored with discord and I feel certain it was. How hard it must have been to speak to her fatherless children who had to learn of death in the most unerring way possible.

Years later, I contacted my father’s brother, my Uncle David, and I learned the truth. He told me how sad my father been, how lost he’d been without us, how much he wanted us back, all the things I wanted to be true. And they were true. He confirmed the suicide I had suspected. In Prince George, there was an old highway where people used to go to kill themselves. The road came around a sharp bend and pointed downhill. So on a dark night, a tired driver might hit a person who threw themselves in front of the vehicle. And if the vehicle were large enough, the human remains would not be salvageable. There were many deaths along this stretch of road. It was called “Suicide Corner.” And that’s where he went when he was too sad to deal with losing us, when he knew he didn’t want to live without us. Was it a truck? A car? A semi? I would have chosen a semi. Did he live long enough to regret his decision or was he killed instantly? I want to know the answers to these questions even if it gives me pain. Because there is also pain in not knowing.

My mother might know the answers to some of these questions but I can’t bring myself to torture a 77 year old woman with that recall. And I have come to understand that there are more questions than answers in this life. What I need to do, is take this memory and bed it down, and cover it over with soil so I can make room for some new experiences that don’t include the sad end of his life. It’s become too convenient to hide behind it, blindly clinging to the darkness of his image. I need to do what he could not do. I need to find the courage to stop living in the shadows and put my face in the sun.

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If you want to read some of my fiction, download my book, Zoo of Human Frailties, for $2.99 USD https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B07YZ123DY

I’ve Never Seen Paris

“Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.” Edgar Degas

Alberta is such a beautiful place. I’ve said this to many people and I’ve often been corrected. “You haven’t seen Paris,” they say. And they shake their heads, maybe roll their eyes, firmly believing in my lack of sophistication. But I feel sorry for them. They’ll probably never visit the cities they recommend to me. And they’ll spend their lives hoping to find happiness somewhere else when I can find it right in front of me.

I see beauty everywhere. I see color, and light, and composition. No matter where I am, I can see it. What a sad situation most people are in because they don’t realize they can see it too. Seeing the world in this way is the reason I started painting. My goal is to remind people of the beauty that surrounds us every day. If they see what I see, maybe they’ll remember it too.

The prairie sky is infinitely charming. From my childhood until today, I’ve developed a habit of watching the sky which is the most magnificent canvas. Morning and evening the horizon is draped with color, like a gift, colorfully wrapped around the edge of the world. Look away and when you look back it’s already changed. Escape is only as far away as casting your eyes upward.

This farm, near Elk Island Park, was a string of ancient buildings, weather worn and broken in places like people. I’m pretty sure they weren’t being used any longer. And chances are, with Edmonton close in proximity, this farm may no longer exist, building gone, holes filled in waiting to become a golf course or hotel. But the painting still hangs on my wall, bringing me back to that moment when I sat quietly watching the sky change on a warm June day in the country.

Find this sketch and the subsequent painting available for download at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com.

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If you want to read some of my fiction, download my book, Zoo of Human Frailties, for $2.99 USD https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B07YZ123DY

Fresh Air on my Skin

“I dream my painting. And then I paint my dream.” Vincent Van Gogh

Elk Island National Park has always been a part of my life. From the time I was a young child until just a few months ago when I went kayaking on Astotin Lake. 

As an inner city kid living in poverty, my life was anchored in the noise and close quarters of low income housing. But I always had the park with the green smells of the algae, the sounds of the loons calling, the feel of fresh air moving over my skin. Buffalo and elk can be seen close enough to smell their matted fur. Herons and swans gather in flocks. We used to sit on the edges of Astotin Lake and feel the warmth of the sun, the coolness of the water, the grittiness of the sand.

The park is very close to Edmonton but takes on the cloak of a very different world. As a child, and as an adult, I would feel the stressors of life fall away as I leave the city. During one of these trips, I saw this little farm, ducks swimming in the water, every building a different shape, trees losing their leaves, sky as blue as a robin’s egg. So this sketch captured that lovely afternoon and eventually it became a painting. 

This painting has my favorite tree I’ve ever drawn. It’s perky and happy and energetic, and I’ve used it in three other paintings, like I’ve plagiarized myself.

I don’t think it’s an accident that I’m a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan and that I love farms and that the world of country living was something I craved. Such a different life than I had, clinging to the fringes of society, feeling picked on, pointed at, teased, barely tolerated. The poor kid. The welfare kid. 

It was no wonder I saw a farm as paradise. I could be someone else. I could make a new identity. I could be valued for who I was instead of being trapped in the role of leach on society. I used to fantasize about living on a farm. A strange fantasy maybe but even now, decades later, I think about how ideal my life would be living near the earth and animals. And I wish we could live life over again so we could use our hard won wisdom to be better the next time around.

You can find this sketch and the subsequent painting for download at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com

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If you want to read some of my fiction, download my book, Zoo of Human Frailties, for $2.99 USD https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B07YZ123DY

The Downward Curve of our Mouths

“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” Edgar Allan Poe

For years I took the bus past this church. I worked at a daycare center and I had to transfer buses to get to work. People don’t believe me when I tell them I really liked taking the bus. I used to sketch people’s faces while I sat on my bumpy ride home. I had to be sneaky so they didn’t know I was drawing the graceful curve of their jaw, their tired expressions, eyes that drooped after a long day. Every one’s face is beautiful in its own way. We wear our worries on our faces between our furrowed brows, under the love starved hollows of our cheeks, on the downward curve of the corners of our mouths. Every day I would see some of the same faces and some new. All unique. All lovely.

When I transferred buses I waited for the number 12 right in front of this beautiful church in West Edmonton. I saw the building every day and grew quite fond of it. I’ve always given buildings human qualities in the same way people anthropomorphize teddy bears. I actually feel like they can love me back. Every day I sat across the street from this lovely church. Finally, I took the time to sketch it, missing one of my buses in the process. 

And the church is still there, of course, but the neighborhood has changed somewhat. Condos have gone up around it, towering over it. But the church still opens its doors and parishioners show up in ever dwindling numbers.

The church contacted me a few years ago about using my painting as a fundraiser and of course I agreed. I could have charged them copyright fees but I didn’t. I’m not a religious person but I have warm feelings about churches whose purpose is usually community and companionship and solace. The last time I was inside a church was for a garage sale. My son was with me and he said he felt like lightning was going to hit him because he’s gay. How can I support a church when it makes my sweet, little boy feel so condemned? I don’t go to church at all but even if I don’t attend church, I still love the buildings and I have a feeling of fondness when I see them.

I never felt the need to attend church. As a child, I had a recurring nightmare that Satan was coming to my house to take me to hell. This was in reaction to the teachings I heard on Sunday morning. I had the terrifying dream over and over, waking up in a cold sweat curled up in a ball on my bed. As I grew older I had no use for the church which could cause a child to feel such fear. I have more reasons to stay away than to belong. 

But as an adult, I have cared for patients who are faced with their own death. I see their despair and fear. I listen to their weeping. And I have come to understand the value of a deity. People cower in the face of death. We hide in the coat tails of a God who may or may not exist. But often, our beliefs give us some comfort when looking up at the emotionless face of our own mortality. In the darkest times in our lives, we need a warm voice to tell us “It’s going to be OK.” And when they feel that fear, we call the pastor to talk to them, to pray with them. Religion is able to give comfort that medicine can’t offer. I have learned that we don’t have to be believers to see the transformation that can be brought to a person’s fear by God. That’s what I see in the churches I sketch. I see people coming together to remind one another how wonderful it is to be alive.

This drawing and the subsequent painting can be downloaded at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com

For more about Dale:
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If you want to read some of my fiction, download my book, Zoo of Human Frailties, for $2.99 USD https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B07YZ123DY

The Companionship of Wind

“Art is harmony parallel with nature.” Paul Cezanne

“Why do you draw farms?” I’ve been asked many times and I don’t have a pat answer. I could explain that I love all the different shaped buildings that sit nestled into the landscape, surrounded by trees as a windbreak, the peacefulness, the sounds of animals, the companionship of the wind, the air of industry, honesty, hard work, love. But most people don’t understand. If I give them my whole answer, I see their eyes glaze over, I see them lose interest after couple of sentences. So I end up saying something like, “I think farms are pretty.” And they smile and nod and say “Cool,” but have no real understanding of my motivation. And sometimes emotion defies logic. We love what we love, we feel what we feel. Trying to explain art is like trying to explain why we cuddle with babies. It’s a feeling that’s both complex and simple at the same time. It fills us up inside. It feeds us in a way that nothing else does. It allows us to touch a part of people that is otherwise inaccessible. It allows us to be a colorful part of the human experience.

I drew the sketch for this painting south of Edmonton on a warm summer day. I was a couple of months pregnant, not enough to be uncomfortable, just enough to be frightened of what might happen in the future. My young husband was outside of the car doing tai chi in the ditch alongside the country road. We went on many trips like this, driving in the country with no real idea where we were going, only stopping when I saw the perfect composition. And I do love this composition. The way the lines of the plowed field worms over the uneven landscape, the earthy road, the fence posts at different heights, the small windmill, the red barn. This sketch became one of my favorite paintings ever. And in the painting, every color that vibrates against another is love, And every line that gracefully curve around a shape is love. And that’s what I want to create. I want people to feel the love I have inside, the naked, raw, embarrassing truth of who I am deep down, my own gratefulness for this gift of life. 

This sketch and the painting can be downloaded at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com. And the video below shows the drawing of the downloadable coloring page.

For more about Dale:
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If you want to read some of my fiction, download my book, Zoo of Human Frailties, for $2.99 USD https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B07YZ123DY

A Sea of Mustard

golden church low res watermark

“Art is a lie that makes us realize truth,” Pablo Picasso

I love churches.

A strange admission from someone who’s not religious at all. I have hundreds of drawings of churches. Every time I see a steeple on the horizon, I find myself heading towards it and pulling out a piece of scrap paper to capture the image. Churches seem to have a freedom of architecture that other buildings don’t have.  Churches don’t have encumbrances for living such as number of bedrooms and walk in closets. The main function of a church is for community and I think that can be seen in their shape. And they make such a lovely silhouette against the sky. The negative space is often more interesting than other shapes in the world.

This church was sitting on the edge of a small valley, overlooking plowed wheat fields that traced their lines over every mound, every hill, golden canola waiting for harvest, a sea of mustard yellow that smelled like vinegar.

And the leaves, the beautiful leaves dropping to the earth and scrambling around on the road like lemmings, every color imaginable. I sat in my car looking at this scene and knew I had to draw it. Some people sketch in sketch books but I never did. I sketched on napkins. So I pulled a napkin from the glove box and drew this picture.

When I draw, I want to capture the beauty of a moment in time, specifically the moments that fill me with peace; make me grateful to be alive. And now I will forever have a record of that day, of something grand that I can point to and say “This is what I love.”

This painting and the sketch it originated from are available for download at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com

This video shows the creation of the coloring page of the church above.

For more about Dale:
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https://www.instagram.com/dalegreenearts/
https://twitter.com/DaleGreeneArts?lang=en

If you want to read some of my fiction, download my book, Zoo of Human Frailties, for $2.99 USD https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B07YZ123DY