Sunday, February 28, 2010

Connect and Reconnect and keep swatting away those Gnats

The voice message light blinked on my phone in the dark of my bedroom. I had just entered, dropping off the bags of ephemera that my husband accumulated during his almost two week stay in the intensive care unit of the hospital. He was weak, he was battered, but he was HOME!

My body stiffened and I tightened my jaw. Would it be yet another phone call from his officious manager where he had been working full time until this medical crisis?

I couldn't stand her insincerity, her obvious joy at an opportunity to remove an employee with disabilities from her roster. I wanted to fit my hands around her throat and squeeze. If I heard her voice I knew I would throw the phone against the wall and maybe pound my head a bit, too.

But then, it could just as easily be a worried family member from back home. So I pushed the play button and stood uneasily waiting to hear the voice.

An unfamiliar voice.

It sounded friendly and definitely not that whining voice of his manager. We call her The Gnat always darting into people's faces, annoying, keeping them from work, complicating every process, infuriating with her touch and random acts of frustrating interaction.

Yet wait, I've heard this voice. I recognized the New England accent. And then she gave her name and said, "I hope you remember me...."

I did! We had had such a great working relationship -- editor and writer -- while she and another talented editor ran one of my favorite writing markets. I knew that the two had been forced out of a magazine after they had built it to a well respected publication. Now some member of the same sisterhood to which The Gnat belonged had begun undoing everything they had worked so hard to do. I saw the latest issue and could only feel pain for the loss.

But the voice was saying something about working for another publication and .... what did she say?

I rewound the message and played it again. She wants me to write for her again. And she wants me to write the kind of articles I so enjoy. AND she wants me to begin with one of my favorite fabric artists! AND she wants me to pitch ideas that she will happily assign to me and pay me a decent wage.

I sat on the bed and stared at the phone. There isn't much of anything I could think of that would sound better (other than that my husband was cured).

Today I began preparing questions for that first interview. I started by reviewing some of the entries blogged and written online about the artist. One site said she was influenced by Alfonse (sic) Mucha. Well of course I had to find out who that was.

Turns out he is a Czech Art Nouveau painter best known for his images of women. Today there is a museum and foundation named after him and just about anyone who has ever seen any Art Nouveau posters or images, have seen his work.

So why include this trivia tidbit in this blog?

Because I took a look at a timeline that was included on the Foundation's website and realized that Alphonse had his Gnats, too. His father sent him to be trained by the church and found him a job as a church clerk. Makes me think of that adage, "poor as church mice..." But Alphonse had other ideas for his life and applied to the Prague Academy of Fine Arts in 1878. "His application is turned down with the recommendation: "Find yourself another profession where you'll be more useful".

Sounds like not only today's writers receive rejection with a twist of malice and elitist intent. But, he doesn't give up. He travels to another city and becomes a scene painter. When he's let go from that job because their biggest client goes up in flames -- literally -- he moves on and begins painting portraits. There he meets a wealthy man who wants him to decorate his whole castle. And in 1885 he begins studying at the Munich Academy of Art.

I feel a connection to Alphonse. He believed in his doodlings. If he hadn't persevered, believed in himself and his 'need' to paint, he would have frittered away his life in a 'job' rather than follow his calling. He wouldn't have become a famous artist who influenced a whole art movement and a now famous fabric artist, and I would not be writing this article. Of course if I had not believed in myself, taken the steps I have taken with my meager little writing career and had not written that first (now rather pathetic) query to the magazine years ago, I would not be sitting here preparing questions for an assignment that may make up the difference in lost revenue caused by The Gnat and her infernal need to grow her own career.

Notice in this fable that the people who stand in the way of art usually remain nameless and fade away into oblivion. They are the dust that covers the floors in human history.

Also notice that Alphonse did not travel his path alone. There were people who hired him, mentored him, sponsored him, and believed in him. Maybe the Gnats of the world are simply the things that make us stronger so that we can lift our chins, square our shoulders and prepare to fight for our words, our lives, our birthright. Or maybe they are the offsprings of parents who did not chose wisely and accepted the church clerk calling rather than fight for who they truly wanted to be, passing on their frustration and fears to their baby Gnats....

Enough about Gnats. I have a profile to write! And then another. And another.

If your phone isn't ringing, take time to reach out today and say hi to those favorite editors. You never know what they'll reply.

PHOTOS: Alphonse Mucha's Art Nouveau images