Aug 30, 2009

A Little Dab'll Do Ya

First and foremost, if you're reading this on my Facebook page, click here or point your browser to if the FB nazis render it inoperable to go to the actual blog where these originate. There's not THAT much more here as opposed to there, certainly less Mafia Wars and "What Colour Underwear Are You?" quiz results, but you never know, you might find something you like. Better, you might find something you don't like. And there's always the archives.

Anyway. On to more pressing matters.

Mature style.

I used to hate that term before I knew anything about anything. I used to think it was bunkum, that it was made up to make people feel like the people who HAD 'mature styles' were somehow better than they were. Oddly enough, and not for the last time, I was wrong.

When I first entered college a very dear friend of mine went south to LSU while I stayed here to attend a hellishly Conservative Christian college. To keep in touch my friend and I wrote letters to each other*. It quickly became a competition to see who could write the weirdest letters. Length (six pages was a minimum) was inclusive under the heading 'weird,' as was nested parenthesis, long rambling rants about the minutae of our everyday lives, changing penmanship styles, using foreign languages and, well, you get the picture. We'd even both go so far as to begin new letters as soon as the last completed one was mailed off, so that we could quickly get another one off as soon as we received one. It was a sickness.

It also a) further ingrained my utterly terrible penmanship and b) formed my mature style of writing. If you've not noticed I've always written in a very conversational format, and very stream-of consciousness. If it's in my head it comes out my fingertips and onto the screen, and I usually post with very little editing. Just not in my nature. Me, I blame Jeff. I suggest you do the same. Bastard hasn't written me in years.

Here of late, and again, if you've been following my Facebook account you know this already, I'm painting again. I do so at the arm-twisting of my therapist who tapped into what is possibly my One True Devotion. And, it goes without saying, the arm-twisting of my syster, my friends and even some complete strangers who shouted well-meaning things at me one day last month in the street as I waited for a bus to drive over me.

Like my letter writing fixation I've been painting oil on canvas since my college days, only not with the frequency or tenacity with which I write. Used to write. Started again. You know. Plus there is a gap measured in years during which my oils literally dried in their tubes and my brushes suffered whatever it is brushes suffer when they're not used. Cleaning clogged drains. Working on school science fair projects. Cleaning dog's teeth. The usual. Not so my writing, so you see the difference that I feel when I see my 'mature style' on the page and when I look at a canvas I've just finished. There's not a lot of difference between what I think and what shows up in my writing. The disparity between the picture in my head and the painted image, however, is a VAST one.

I'll freely admit it wasn't until last night that I finally broke down and got back into painting fully. A late-evening jaunt brought me to the local hobby store and I spent a fair bit of my painstakingly collected cash on new palette knives, some big 12 oz tubes of pigment and a variety of brushes. Cheap ones but plentiful, the way I like it. My style (such as it is) doesn't require sable brushes. I'm not doing portraiture here, nor am I selling these to the Guggenheim, so brushes made from virgin's pubes are not in my budget.

I've set aside Sundays as my painting day. I work at my job all week then work at house duties in the evenings to make sure that by the time Sunday rolls around I can be in my office shoving the big wingback chair out of the way and throwing down the dropcloth that has delineated "My Studio Space" since the day I first began painting in earnest in college. I take up one of the many blank canvases I have amassed over the years, confine it within my easel and I work at it anywhere from three to six hours, from just before lunch to well into the afternoon. It's a healing time. A very narrow-focus time. A particularly ME time, surrounded by the smells and the sensations that remind me of the only time I ever truly enjoyed college. Creation time. Studio time.

Mature style. That's the kicker. Even with a degree from an accredited, stick-up-its-ass college I don't have a mature style yet. I haven't painted nearly enough to have found something that works for me, a certain turn of the brush that says "This is his work" like my writing does. I look back over my (albeit small) body of work and I see certain terms, certain visual pieces of a vocabulary that I feel the need to use. I have a symbology that grows and branches that is mine, I can say that with certainty. In my creative time I've branched out many ways, trying to find my voice. I've worked decoupage (French for "glue shite to other shite and then varnish the lot within an inch of its life") into my painted works, and still wander in and out of an impasto (Italian for "slather the paint on like you're icing a cake, capiche?") technique and I even tried a sort of comic-book style a few times, where the canvas was divided by heavy black irregular borders and the story was read left to right and top to bottom, a book rendered in paint on canvas.

A friend of mine to whom I gave that particular painting said that for all my railing against having no style it was still very much my style. He said "it's your colours." I didn't see it myself, the painting being done mostly in a sort of ghastly, sickly green, but I took his word for it.

That statement made a decade or more ago still makes me wonder. From the first day I dabbed brush on canvas I knew that Surrealism was my only avenue. It's been one of the very few things that I've ever been absolutely certain of. Even doing simple student exercises I tried to render the unusual, the dreamlike, the vaguely menacing in my images. The rest? The rest has been conjecture and exploration and wandering in the desert looking for the burning giraffe and the bathtub full of brightly-coloured machine parts. The checkerboard patterns and the giant burnt matchstick, the vastly oversized origami sculptures and the rusted pipework, the crescent-shape and its ever-attendant opened orb, the claw-foot bathtub and the walls that aren't quite straight, those are my vocabulary; the procedure, the actual process of rendering them, that's the part that still chafes.

Perhaps I won't recognise my mature style until it's been here so long I take it for granted and stop watching for it, like my writing style. I don't consciously work at writing like this, I just write and what comes out Perhaps part of having a mature style is no longer questing for a certain style and simply lies in doing whatever comes naturally. Letting the paint fall where it may, letting the muscles do what they want to do while the brush rests between my fingers, reproducing the world that my mind swims in.

Nah. Can't be THAT easy.

* For those of you not old enough to remember pens and paper, they were the main form of written communication before text messages. Watery carbon was dispensed from a stylus onto bits of thinly-pulped wood, and the result was folded and placed into an enclosure, also made of pulped wood. The resulting "letter" was sent via a very unreliable physical delivery method to the recipient at an exorbitant charge, sometimes taking up to a week or longer to arrive. IDK. OMG WTF rite? :-P

Aug 26, 2009

Too Good Not To Share

It's a praying mantis, believe it or not. Not like any one I've ever seen before, but a mantis certainly enough.

Jogging Through

Well, not jogging, I don't jog anymore. I wobble, yes. I jiggle, most definitely. Jog? Nah. Maybe joggle.


Just wanted to say that even tho I don't have the prerequisite hour it usually takes me to write a 'for real' blog post I did want to take a few minutes to tell you that things are looking up. I feel better than I have in a long time, thanks to some determined therapy, a slight change in diet and the addition of some all-natural supplements (ie I'm devouring animal glands and so forth. Honest. Ground up, freeze-dried, powdered-and-put-in-a-capsule animal glands. Among other things. Healthy!) The funny thing is, it's actually working. A few days ago An Incident occurred that as little as two weeks ago would have had me crash-and-burning, in a serious depression spiral downward. The moment came, I knew it was going to happen, I started to crash, I clenched for it and...


Nothing else happened. I got angry, I got a little anxious, I got a little black-edged, but nothing, far and away NOTHING on how it used to be. I persevered, I made it through the day intact, and came out the other side feeling good enough to hop on the mower, light up a nice big cigar, pop in the earbuds and cut some grass to Steely Dan and Beethoven.

As little as two weeks ago I would have been ruined for the day, if not longer. As little as one week ago I'd have been crushed for the day, struggling under the load of anxiety. That day? Nothing unbearable by any mean. Utterly astounding. I love it.

The best part of it? Fall is coming. I can feel it in the mornings. I can smell it in the air. The October People are coming. I can hear their dry leaf rustling footfalls down the sidewalk. I can smell the cinnamon spice mummy-wrappings of their clothes.

They're coming, and I'm standing here with open arms.

Aug 20, 2009

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Okay, so truth be told I've had in my head for a while now a post about depression. My depression and crippling anxiety. The twin problems that have plagued me for most of my life but most especially and most effectively this entire summer. The two things that have contributed to keeping me away from writing and from much social contact and from much anything, really. In the typewriter in my head I've written the whole post out as a comparison of my mental state transposed against the state of my garden. It's not going to be the easiest post to write, but I think it needs to be said.

Just not right now.

Instead, for now, I give you:

A Tale Of Two Lawn Mowers*

So there I was, ready to cut grass. Hauled my big red Craftsman 54" deck lawn tractor out of the shed and fired it up. And promptly heard a horrific noise and felt a violent, sick-dog shaking all through the frame. Killed the motor and realised that a tiny little rubber grommet that likely costs about a nickle had torn, thereby letting a simple little fresh-air filter mounted to what would be the cylinder head on a car engine pop loose. The resulting small and well-hidden opening let oil leak out while Mrs. I cut the back yard last week and unbeknownst to her the engine ran just about empty of oil.

I'm not sure what exactly is wrong with it, not having brought it to the mower shop but my brother who knows mechanicing and has had the same problem said they will just replace the entire motor because it's cheaper than digging into it.


No biggie, tho. I asked said brother if I could borrow his mower, and he readily agreed, even giving me a tank-full of fuel gratis.

Now, if you recall, I have one of those big La-Z-Boy lawn tractors with the cush seat and the giant floorboards and all that. I keep careful care of it, drive it none too fast, even wash it occasionally. I keep the deck clear of debris, sharpen the blades regularly and spray the 'inside' of the deck with grill cooking spray to keep the grass from sticking. As a rule of thumb I also try not to run over sticks...that is, sticks thicker than my thumb.

My brother isn't like me. He's got one of those devilishly fast zero-turning-radius mowers, the kind that replaces the steering wheel with a pair of bent tubular handlebars that wrap up around you like the safety device on a roller coaster. The motor is in the wrong place (it's in the back) and it doesn't even have a proper hood. Instead what it has is a wide flat deck with a raised lip in the front that you use to brace yourself against because chances are good that at least once a summer you'll forget, twist a bar the wrong way and fling yourself arse over teakettle off it, and you need that lip up front to propel yourself away from the hellishly fast-spinning blades that are inches from your tender feet. He's also of the opinion that if you can drive over it you can cut it, and if you can't drive over it then you're not going fast enough and need to back up and get a longer running start at it.

My brother's mower is a nasty bit of business. It's never been washed. He confided in me today that in the three years he's owned it he's never even changed the oil, and that the length of aluminum pipe rattling around on the flat deck was so that I could knock the grass away from the discharge on the deck because the blades were dull and it doesn't throw the grass out like it's supposed to, so it jams. Often. And that black plastic guard that is designed to carefully redirect the grass clippings away and behind the deck? It's been gone for years. When it runs at full throttle (it only has two settings--Off and Ballistic) it picks up a sort of cyclic vibration, like something in the blade drive is just slightly warped, which sets up a resonance in your bladder about five minutes into cutting.

Now I will say this about it--it's fast. My regular grass-cutting regime takes me four hours a week. I performed the same acreage of cutting on my brother's mower in one, and first grade math tells us that with my brother's ZTR machine I'm moving 10.235 times as fast as I do on my own mower. That's crazy fast, kids.

See, that's the other thing. On my mower I know I have time to think. I'm not rocketing around the yard clinging tenaciously with my buttocks to a very slick vinyl-covered seat that would be more at home on a bicycle. There's no danger of being flung headlong over the steering wheel on my mower because it's simply Not That Fast. The ZTR? Every single turn I made had me clenching for dear life, and my yard is rough enough in patches that at the speed I was forced to travel bits of me would start bouncing with a ferocity that nearly disemboweled me at one point and I swear made me pee blood that evening.

Or maybe I ate too many beets. But I doubt it.

Don't get me wrong, it's fun, sort of. Fun like having to duck under the "Police Line Do Not Cross" tape so you can ride a roller coaster at a forgotten amusement park. Fun like smearing yourself in A-1 steak sauce and running through the dog pound. Fun like finding a motor scooter in the barn out back, shoehorning a V-8 small block into it and taking the resulting Frankensteinian monster downtown for a near-suicidal careen around the production line at the Broken Glass And Razor Blades factory.

Yes, there's something to be said for knocking three hours off your four hour cutting time. Thing being, there's not a lot of opportunity for unhurried pondering of life, the universe and everything in the fading summer heat. On my lawn tractor, safely ensconced on the huge, supportive seat I can leisurely smoke a cigar and think about things long and deeply while a very tiny bit of my hindbrain does the decision making for the driving. On the ZTR my thoughts ran more toward "Damnit I knew I was turning too hard and now I've gouged my my azalea bush," and "Oh crap did I just mow over a full-grown badger? Where did all that fur come from?" and "Holy gold-plated baby Jeebus I'm flying over the steering sticks right into the hellishly fast-spinning dull blades that are inches from my tender feet!"

Mrs. I watched me careen around the back yard this afternoon for the three and a half minutes it took me to cut the acre of grass back there, and when I'd come in and sat long enough to still the trembling in my legs and get my facial tic under control she suggested that we could take our next tax return and buy us one. Meaning I could buy a ZTR mower if I wanted to. I looked at her like she'd just suggested I shove both hands elbow-deep into the output tray at the Dirty Hypodermic Needles And Tetanus factory.

I miss my lawn tractor already. I'm just hoping I can survive the ZTR long enough to cut grass at the old office enough times to pay for a new motor for it.

And no, not a V-8.

* And there ends the literary reference. A truly clever, gifted writer would do the entire post drawing eerily clever comparisons between his story and the literary classic, but since I read it once in high school and can recall nothing of that literary masterwork except the catchy title I shan't be taking that route.

Sorry for letting you down again.

Or not.

Aug 9, 2009

Pennington 2009

Another Pennington State Balloon Rally has flown and been packed away in its big canvas bag, ready for next year. I hate to see it go, but I'm proud to say I was a part of it this year, my first time as either a spectator OR a participant.

To start at the wrong end, to begin at the tail and work to the mouth--this morning, after we had flown our last flight, refueled for the last time at the fueling station and had gone back to the hotel to partake of one last complimentary breakfast, David, sitting at the head of the table, our father and mentor and friend performed a simple ceremony that he does at the end of every big festival or competition: he asked each of us around the table to relate our favourite moments from the days-long event.

Just like any event of this scale there are certain moments that stand out in my mind with if not crystal clarity then with a sharpness that will certainly last me for decades to come. Realising Saturday afternoon that the weather was going to prevent us from flying. Eating beignets in a little coffee shop off one of the main drags at 11 at night, our skin smelling of propane, the little cafe nearly packed with people. Watching the looks of utter wonder and astonishment on the faces and in the eyes of so many little children, looks mirrored in their parent's faces.

Each of us at the table had something different, some little moment or larger feeling that they related. Me, I wanted to tip my mind over and let the whole flood out, drown my friends and family in a cascade of images and words and inarticulate feelings.

I wanted to talk about how it looked to me and how I felt sitting in the chase truck watching the larger Skybird nudge and bump against a smaller, rounder balloon flown by a competitor as they both angled for the perfect approach to the target on Pennington Field, and the cheer that I couldn't help but release when I saw the bright pink beanbag leave Skybird's basket, spun and hurled by David toward the yellow "X" on the ground below.

Jostling For Position

I wanted to talk about what it felt like to look up in the sky as we held Skybird in place as her envelope filled, looking up and seeing dozens of giants gliding by overhead in near-silent splendor. Hugely round jellyfish drifting in currents of air, with tiny wicker baskets instead of stinging tentacles descending from their bellies. How I wanted to call to those passing, extolling them to "Wait! I want to join you!" And then how I could not help but whoop and cheer when I looked up and Skybird's blue and orange globe had joined that strange sea, fitting herself into the mass of bodies as naturally as a seal dives into the sea.

Perkins Rd

I wanted to tell about the sinking feeling I had when I saw a gaping tear in one panel of a complete stranger's balloon, and how I looked and looked as we passed to make certain that it could be repaired, that it might fly again, my heart torn between that stranger's need and our own balloon's need, approaching the ground.

A part of me was desperate to tell them how good I felt, learning how to refuel the tanks in Skybird's basket. Knowing full well it was a terribly dangerous thing (the attendants only allowed two persons from each balloon crew to enter the grounds, to minimize the risk of life should the store of propane ignite.) Learning the job, learning the dangers of handling a fluid that escapes into the air as a vapor so cold you cannot touch it with bare hands lest you be burned. Taking the responsibility for doing it right, and safely, having that responsibility placed in your hands by a teacher who knows better than you, who knows that to learn you have to do, and you have to make mistakes as you learn.

And then the child in me wanted to tell them that the jet of white propane vapor vented out of the tall thin exhaust pipes as we completed the refueling process made me think of whales breaching, blasting out air in a white plume.

A part of me too could have talked about my own role as teacher--squatting in the grass while swarms of little children with curiosity in their hearts and fire in their eyes pointed and asked and probed, desperate for knowledge. Talking to one stranger after another, answering questions about lift and size and wicker and when we'd be inflating and when we'd be racing and when would we be back? I wanted to talk about the Mexican gentleman who asked a constant stream of questions in rapid, heavily accented English who then, upon devouring my words poured them back out of his mouth in a liquid stream of Spanish for his wife, while his three sons climbed around and in and out of the basket asking their own questions. How good it felt to enlighten people about what we do, how fulfilling it was to know the answers to the questions they asked.

Of course a part of me wanted to talk about the competition, the sense of pride I felt every time I saw Skybird moving into position to toss a ring or scale a beanbag with it's trailing plastic tail at the target. I wanted to crow jubilant laughter, retelling this morning's misplaced toss: finding a competitor directly below us, between us and the target David decided to toss the balloon ONTO the other balloon, trying to make it slide down the slick nylon sides and perhaps land where it needed to be. How chagrined David looked when the yellow beanbag plopped dead center onto their top and stayed, and the childlike glee that appeared moments later, a little boy who has done something not terribly wrong but frightfully funny and has gotten away with it.

Two Targets

Naturally I wanted to tell them how proud I was to sit with the pilots during briefing. How at Natchez last year I stared into the open-sided tent at all those people listening to the briefing, feeling like an outsider, a 'less than.' Wondering what the presenter was saying, how I longed to be sitting there with them. How proud I was to sit there Saturday and Sunday morning beside my teacher, behind the paper "24" that was our assigned number for the festival. How it felt to know that I was the 'new guy,' the student pilot, wondering how many people would later find David in a quiet moment, pull him aside and ask who the guy with the moustache and the dorky grin was. And of course how it felt to walk back to the truck after the briefing, numbers and wind velocities and targets bouncing around my head as my feet longed to break into a run, eager to find our spot and launch.

And then there was the part of me that wanted to go on and on about how incredible it was to see the balloons flying out over the mirror of a still lake. How I'd heard it described a dozen times or more, how I'd seen the photos but never imagined how incredible it would look in person, from the vantage point of the waterfowl whose day we disturbed.

Red Relection

Watery Hot Air

Karen's Dream II In Mirror

To slip the surly bounds of Earth indeed.

The complete set of Pennington 2009 photos can be seen here.

Aug 3, 2009

You Cannot Step On The Same Piece Of River Twice

Long 'way around to say what everyone knows: change is inevitable, and constant.

Not that all of us like that. Not that all change is good.

This has been the Summer of Change for me, and it's been uncomfortable to say the least. This summer more than any stretch of time for me has involved dynamic leaps and shudders, twists and curves. I've had to deal with more new things these past few months than I've had to deal with, it seems, in a very long time. One after the other they set me up and knock me down again.

I had to put my cat of 19 years to sleep this summer. Her kidneys finally began failing her, and she put her small head in my palm one last time when the euthanasia drugs reached her heart.

My daughter is going to be a high school freshman this year. She'll be home in two days, and in one week from today she'll be going to her first day as a freshman. Everything changes when you hit high school, and my own high school experiences were varied and not nearly always positive, so of course being a parent I'm terrified that her high school experiences (at a different school than the one I went to, to make matters worse) will be less than 100% perfect. That she will have to endure some of the same wrenching and tearing that I had to endure.

A dear friend lost her beloved husband of just a handful of years, leaving her with two young children. I cannot imagine how she feels, and how her little ones are dealing with it. To make matters worse she lives in another state, so I can't even sit with her to talk about it, to help her in the healing process.

The list, which gets pretty boring to someone who isn't me goes on and on, but to cap this summer off my favourite aunt died of liver cancer just a few days ago. Her and her husband, who is my favourite uncle of all had been married for 67 years. We drove my mom down to Lake Charles this last Sunday to attend the wake, and it reawakened all sorts of memories of my childhood in Mississippi at my grandparent's house. Seeing her lying there surrounded by flowers all I could think about was sitting with her on my grandparent's floor building puzzles with her. She loved puzzles as much as I did, and we'd spend hours in the evenings carefully assembling landscapes and still lifes on the carpet while everyone else talked or played cards or sat on the porch swing and watched the fire flies light up the black night.

A lot of my childhood is tied up in that old white wooden house, but there's one thing in particular that I always come 'round to when I think about my father's and my grandfather's home. In front of the house is a circular gravel driveway, and just off center of that gravel drive there stood a pecan tree. This particular tree was a great grandfather amongst trees; a native pecan, so it grew tiny little pecans, spending its energy instead in growing tall and wide. My grandfather hung a swing from a branch of that tree some 80 or so years ago, to entertain his four sons. Two lengths of heavy chain and a seat made out of a plank of oak that must have been two inches thick, and little did he know how long it was be there when he first climbed up there to secure the chains.

That swing entertained three generations of children and adults both. My father and his brothers, then their children, boys and girls both, and then when those children grew up their children were introduced to it. I've pushed my daughter in that swing, and cousins of mine, and even friends whom we've invited over the years. I know my cousins have done the same thing. The chain never got rusty at the lowermost reaches because constant use by generations of hands kept it polished to a satin smoothness. The wires or eyebolts that attached the chain to the branch's circumference were never seen by the second generation--they'd been there so long that even when I was a kid you could no longer see the attachment point, long since overgrown by the slow, steady encroachment of the branch as it thickened into a width bigger than most tree trunks. The chains simply went up and up and stopped at wood, as though the tree had changed its structure just enough to depend a pair of supports for the wooden seat and a single passenger.

The tree was immensely tall, and that branch was some thirty or more feet up, so the swing had a tremendous arc to it. If you were alone, and patient, by tugging on the long chains you could after a while stay airborne for what seemed like forever. If you had the help of a bigger brother or an older cousin who could push--well, you could fly so high you felt like if you let go at the top of the arc and slipped off the worn wooden seat you could spread your arms and soar over the tops of the pine forest that bordered the land. It became a point of pride with the older boys that you were a man when you could get enough height going that, with a running start you could push your passenger so hard and so straight you could run, upright, under the seat as the arc carried them over your head.

Talking with my bereaved uncle's two sons, the caretakers of the house and land now, I found out that the old pecan, like my aunt, like all of us have to do sooner or later, had succumbed to the ravages of age. Rot had set into its soft insides at some point and eaten at it, slowly but inexorably until the massive tree was just a shell, and to keep it from falling on the house it shaded and sheltered they had to have it cut down. I was told that it was so thick around the trunk that the tree removal specialists had to call in a favor from a local logging company--a commercial cutter's chainsaw was needed to cut it, and then those pieces had to be cut and cut again by the smaller saws until they could be loaded into the truck.

I can't imagine the house without that pecan tree there, spreading branches over what seemed like half the yard. I cannot imagine driving up the driveway, hearing the grey gravel crunch under the tires after a three hour car trip and not seeing, at the top of the hill that swing hanging there, and the massive trunk that supported the branch on which it depended. I can't imagine not seeing the grandfather's massive roots surrounded by a sea of red spider lily flowers in fall, or by white wildflowers in summer.

So much changes. Little changes at the house I could understand. The old wooden pump house gave way to a metal shed to store equipment in. The brambles and woods that crowded so close upon the yard were pushed back, the old fence where the dewberries used to hang thick and succulent was cleaned away because there hadn't been cattle to enclose in decades. The furniture inside stayed the same but photographs changed and tiny bits of bric-a-brac went to new homes as family members requested some special memento or other. The wooden floors polished smooth by the tread of thousands of feet remain. The wooden casement windows are still there, but I heard, after hearing of the death of that old tree that even the house was starting to run down. Standing empty for so long as it has the small maintenance issues quickly become legion, become too big to handle easily, and I can see the day, not soon but eventually when even the house will be torn down.

I can still see my uncle standing there, his white hair and my grandfather's face. I can hear the rumble of his voice, the echo of his laugh stretching back across all of my childhood in the same way I can hear my aunt's voice. I know that one day, perhaps soon, he too will be lying there, surrounded by flowers and mourners, family and friends and well-wishers, and I know that the rest of us will have to go on a little piece more, will have a little more time to walk down the road.

I can't go back there now. Oh, I know the route by heart even though I've not driven it in years. What I can't do to myself is replace the image in my heart with the image as it is now--one less guardian tree there, the swing that filled so many of my childhood hours gone, the house falling slowly into ruin. And now the ghost, figuratively, of my aunt. Sitting on the floor with me building puzzles I'd brought all the way from home, just because I knew Aunt Eva was going to be there when I arrived.

Is it any wonder change gnaws at me?