When I was young, it was no strange event for our family to head off to a piano recital, a string quartet concert, a jazz contest, a bluegrass jam, a Prairie Home Companion event, an art exhibit, the library or a book release event...even an architecture or home tour. Or, we could stay at home and make a little music of our own. Dad was always ready to jump on the piano or the organ to accompany us. Or, we'd sing hymns in four part harmony during our long car rides. I remember our lives being filled with the arts, and I loved it.
My brother and I were performers. We were musicians. We were artists - in the widest definition of the term. In fact, one of my earliest memories of Aaron was the morning after watching the circus on TV. Mom and Dad recall him jumping into their bedroom early that next day, making the oddest request, "Stremmel me! Stremmel me!" They had no idea what Aaron meant until they realized he wanted to be introduced - just like the ringmaster introduced each act the night before. Then began the family tradition of introducing each of our adventures, each of our creations, and each of our performances around the house, whether it was hanging upside down from our feet on the swing set or our attempts to coax the dogs or cats over our long line of jump ropes. Of course, the funniest times were when Aaron insisted that Dad introduce or "Stremmel" members of our family that didn't have the last name of Stremmel. "Ladies and Gentleman, introducing...uh, uh, uh, (building the announcement with anticipation) Uncle... Maurice... Stremmel! YAYYYYYY!" I still laugh out loud when I think of that.
Some of artistic ability seemed to come naturally. It's true that my parents do have recordings of me singing (and crying in protest at the songs Dad wanted me to sing) at age 2, 3, 4...and I am sure music was sung and played to me from my earliest days. And, I did win a poetry contest in first grade. But, my other arts efforts weren't so successful or natural. I remember glaring across the classroom as Angie Martin was repeatedly praised for her coloring skills. The teachers would sing, "Angie, it is so wonderful how you've outlined the picture sections with a dark line" or "You've added shading with your crayon? How delightful!" I knew I'd never be as good in coloring as Angie, and my pictures proved it. Uneven fills. Sudden darts outside of the lines. Bad color choices. Dark blots where it was clear to everyone that my Crayola had broken - ONCE AGAIN. (OK, OK. Maybe I was expecting too much from myself as a kindergartener, but it was important to me.) It's probably because of these circumstances that I started focusing on my penmanship or, rather, the 250+ fonts I've practiced in my life. Pages and pages of my notebooks are filled with letters and numbers of every shape and size. Sharp. Slanted. Smooth. Funny. Light-hearted. Excited. Sad. No matter how bad (or good) they actually were, it seemed that my made-up styles of letters and numbers could convey feelings that my drawings and my coloring never could.
Then, there was our obsession with the tape recorder. I think it all started when Dad pulled out the old reel-to-reel recorder and showed us how we could sound just like The Chipmunks. I remember the strange faces that Dad and Aaron would make trying to speak as low and as slowly as possible when recording so that the chipmunk voices would turn out well when played back on high speed. I would laugh so hard at those funny faces, which, in turn, would make Aaron giggle, and it would make the chipmunk recording reach an extremely high, ear-aching pitch. So, we'd start over. No big whoop. It was fun, and we had the time to spare in the summers. But, the few weeks or so of reel-to-reel experiences led to months and months of creativity in the upstairs theatre of our house on Dean Court. I had two twin beds in my room at the time, so we'd do our most imaginative dramatic and comedic writing on one bed...and then move to the other ("soundstage") to carry out the acting and recording on Dad's tape recorder. These were serious endeavors - with commercials, music swells for suspense, and everything! We'd tape all sorts of TV shows and radio programs we had imagined, and most of our efforts were focused on regular installments of our very own soap opera, 'As The World....STOPS!' (I really need to find those tapes to prevent future blackmail for both Aaron and me!)
The fun never stopped and led into arts classes at College for Kids, pottery and arts weeks at Dickson Mounds, special performances with Mr. Etter, The Playhouse Children's Theatre, band, drumline, chorus, madrigals, speech team, Model U.N., plays, musicals,...the list goes on and on. And, I loved all of it, and I wanted it to continue.
But, the time for college came. And, it became more and more clear that I was being forced to make some choices - that I would not be allowed to continue in all of the activities that I loved so much - especially in the arts. Even worse, my voice - my own body - wouldn't allow me to participate in the portions I loved the most. No matter how many urged me and no matter how much I secretly wanted to do so, I could not become a vocal music major. So, I tried to do the next best thing: become a theatre major. But, the nodules on my vocal cords would barely let me do even that. So, I took art classes, and surprise of all surprises, I was fairly good at it. But, for so many reasons, it was all too difficult to be around even the art majors because I couldn't do what I really wanted to do and what I felt I was made to do.
So, instead of being artsy, it seems I just became busy. Busy, busy, busy. B-U-S-Y! BUSY! And, I've been living like that for quite some time. I've moved from place to place, taking in events here and there, participating a little here and there. But, I have not lived anywhere long enough to truly get settled and feel like part of the community. There's been a long list of "I Wishes" surrounding this topic, but for years, the artistic part of my life has mostly lain dormant.
That is, until now! I've been living in the same area for 4 years now and have lived in my same house for over 3. My cats most assuredly are hoping that I will go somewhere else to sing, because they must be tired of constantly hearing me at home. My vocal cords seem to be healed. I'm only a month or two away from having that at-home "craft room" I've always wanted. And, I just found my big box of drawing and painting supplies. In short, there is no excuse for me not to jump back into this very important part of my life from which I've been disconnected for so many years. When I do all of these sorts of activities, I feel more....ME! And, it's about time. I WANT TO BE PART OF THE ARTS AGAIN!!!!
So, I've joined the Sacred Harp group, which I am continuing to love, and we had another great night of singing last night. I just sent out some of my photographs to be framed for my house. And, this weekend, I hope to visit with many local artists in a yearly event presented by the Madison County Arts Council: ARTEAST. "ARTEAST was initiated in 1998 by a group of artists as a way to pool their resources and bring attention to the extraordinary artists in the Metro East area of St. Louis." Last week, the tour focused on Alton, while this weekend the tour is centered around Edwardsville. I am very excited, as I have wanted to attend for many years. But, this year, I hope to move my intentions into action. Yippppeeee!
Who knows? Maybe, by next year, I'll have some "stuff" or "things" to show during the ARTEAST event. Maybe some felt craft items will be ready. Maybe I'll finally get around to painting and decorating all of the wooden chairs I've been stockpiling in my garage. Maybe I'll have my notecard and stationery business up and running by then. Maybe I can make something mysterious and wonderful out of the 300 wire hangers I have collected (also in my garage.) And, maybe, just maybe, I can show off some of my stellar origami. (Little Caesar's Employee: "Ever hear of Origami?” while folding and unfolding pizza box rapidly. Customer: (looking at pizza box) “What’s that?” Employee: “A pterodactyl! Caw! Caw! Caw!…” Customer: “A what?…”)
In October 2007, I hope I can look back on a fulfilling, more-genuine-me year of taking part in the arts community around me. It makes me excited to wonder what opportunities could be right around the corner.