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Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.

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creativity

the free spirit.

GCB-sailor edited

This hip chick is my mother.

The photo was taken around the time she began her career as a stay-at-home mom.

If my father was a left-brain analytical, my mother personified the right-brain free spirit.

My mother had artistic ambitions. She was good with sketches, and I think I remember her working with pastels. But she was raising a family and it was hard to stick with it.

She was also a musician. She played the clarinet in the high school band (or faked it, as she would say, a skill I managed to master when I was in the band), and she was an excellent piano player. But she was raising a family and it was hard to stick with it.

She loved to write and was a master of the funny story. She wanted to be the next Erma Bombeck (a popular humorist of her day) and probably had the skills to pull it off. But she was raising a family and it was hard to stick with it.

Did I mention poetry? No, not the soul-searching free verse that is popular today, but poems that actually rhymed. And again, many were humorous. But she was raising a family it was hard to stick with it.

She also sewed and made clothes for the family. I consider sewing an art form, but for my mother, it was a necessary skill, one that she was able to stick with, because she was raising a family.

Like most right-brain thinkers, my mother had dreams of making it big, but they never panned out. Even so, at every stage of her life she was able to find contentment in the work that she did. Yes, she found happiness in her art, her music, her writing, her poetry. But she knew what was really important. It wasn’t a sacrifice for her to let her dreams take a back seat, it was her act of love for her family. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

Times have changed. With more options available, many mothers are able to work outside the home, fulfill their obligations as a mother, and still find time to pursue other interests. Roles are changing, too. Stay-at-home dads are much more common and give women even more choices.

But my mother’s world was different. Still, one truth remains.

Our time is short and our work is ephemeral.

Know what really matters and make the most of it.

Do your thing.

Eugene Bird at work

This young man is my father.
The photo was taken in the early days of his career as an electrical engineer.

In many ways, he is the stereotypical engineer.  He’s analytical.  He’s a logical problem solver.  He pays attention to detail.  He would be considered a left-brain thinker.  Creative types – your artists, musicians, actors, dancers – are generally considered right-brian thinkers.  If you think with the left side of your brain, you’d make a good engineer.  If you think with the right side, you might be a good writer.  And for much of what I remember about my father, this would seem to hold true.

When I was growing up, I don’t remember him doing anything very creative.  He was very much an engineer, and was a great (if sometimes intimidating) teacher of math and science to me and my sisters.

Most of his career he worked for Union Carbide and when they began to build new production facilities in Texas, he was transferred to Houston.  My family moved to Texas twice, and when he was sent to Houston for a third time, he opted to go it alone and not put the family through another move. So what does an engineer living by himself do in his spare time?

Golf?  Maybe jigsaw puzzles?  No.  He took up painting.  When he returned home we were astounded by what he had done. Among other things, he painted this scene of the old Morgan homestead near Winfield (WV), across from what is now the John Amos power plant.

eugene painting for web

As far as I know, he had never painted anything before.  There were other paintings, including a very lifelike portrait of Pittsburgh Steeler great, Mean Joe Green.

But when he came back home, he was done with painting.

In the 4o-some years since, he’s completed home improvement projects and done some woodworking, but not much that would label him as a creative type.

Then last year, my sister suggested to our then 86-year-old father that he should do pencil sketches of his great-grandchildren. He agreed.  Here’s one of the twins, Bear.

bear for web

For most of his life, my father has played the role of engineer.  He is still very practical and analytical, and his fondness for logic would make Mr. Spock proud. And then he’ll surprise us with those sparks of creativity that seem to come forth every forty years or so.

Lessons in all of this?

Don’t sell yourself short. You may not even realize the potential within.  Do your thing.

Too old? Nope. That just doesn’t cut it. Do your thing.

It will make your life better.

 

 

 

 

The Green Box

green box for web

I guess I was around fifteen. Maybe eighth grade. Back then that meant that I attended St. Albans Junior High, the old high school of my mother and father. Some of their teachers still taught there. Like Mr. Jordan, a science teacher, I think. Gordon T. Jordon, to be precise. In my mother’s time, they called him Gordon Tordon Jordon.

The old school is now a warehouse for old commercial kitchen equipment. Broken windows everywhere. Who knows what living inside. And a few ghosts from the past. Not literal ghosts, just haunting memories.

Like the first time I danced in front of people. Before I learned not to care what people thought. Bad memory.

Eating popcorn while watching a basketball game up on the mezzanine of the gym. Good memory.

Dodge ball. Crab ball. Climbing ropes. Does anybody really have a good memory of gym class?

We had a really good auditorium for its time. Like an old theater. Lots of good productions and student talent shows. Jack Lyons singing Mr. Bojangles. Good memory.

Almost getting beat up after school for mouthing off to an upper classman and being saved at the last minute by a teacher who saw the guy pull his fist back and yelled out the window just in time.

And then there was Shop Class. I was not a shop class kind of guy. In fact, I was still trying to figure out what kind of guy I was. I was dabbling in music, but was never really very good. Likewise with sports. Not super smart. Not super cool. Pretty much just another extra on the great movie set of life.

But Shop Class was required, so I spent a semester learning how to not cut off my fingers with a power saw, lessons I value to this day. Mr. Bass, one of the school’s coaches, also taught Shop Class. Scary guy. Big. Stern. Never smiled.

Steve Bailey was in my class. His family lived high on the hill in St. Albans. He was somewhat of a free spirit, but cut from a different cloth. His hair was long, all the way to his shoulders, which was not that unusual for the time, but he wore shirts with French cuffs and cuff links.  Nobody did that. So there he is in Shop Class with his fancy shirts. But he could be intimidating. Nobody made fun.

At the end of the semester, we had to put all of our newly learned skills to the test and actually make something. Anything. Other guys were making cool stuff. Maybe a gun rack. Or a table. I made a box. Roughly 12” x 12” with a lid. Painted green. A plain green box. Even at the time, I was embarrassed by my lack of creativity.

That was, what, 45 years ago? The box is still in my garage.

Today, I’m in the middle of a remodeling project in the basement. Over the years, the occasional water infiltration had caused mold to grow at the bottom of a built-in bookcase and the wood paneling behind it.  So I took out the bookcase. The rest of the paneling was still good and I didn’t want to rip out everything so I decided to cut off the bottom and rebuild with a new wainscot.

I drew a line on the paneling and five minutes later, the offending moldy panels were gone. A nice, clean cut.

It was satisfying. Even though it was really demolition, it felt creative. Like I was doing something positive. Something that few people would ever see. But it felt good.

I think that’s how it is with anything creative that we do. Whether anyone else appreciates it doesn’t really matter. We were born with that creative urge.

For some people, it’s masterpieces of woodworking or pottery or fantastic art or life-changing music or stories that take us to another world.

For some people, it’s children and families and making those around them feel loved and welcome.

For some people, it’s leading others to find greater truths.

And for some of us, it’s building a green box and cutting out the mold.

Simple creativity.

Not for the rewards. Not for the riches. Not for the accolades.

Just because we can.

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