Thursday, December 12, 2013

what's in a name?

Filomena & John with five of the husbands, Christmas 1946.
My dad is the uniformed officer.

My grandmother, Filomena Contella, immigrated to America from Italy in the early 20th century. She was promised to my grandfather, a well-to-do man from upstate New York. They had seven daughters during their marriage, my mother being number five and "daddy's favorite." (This, according to my Aunt Evelyn, who I've written about here.)

My mother often relegated the tale of my name whenever my birthday would come round on the calendar. Born in 1951 on a rainy, snowy day in February, my mother decided she wanted to name me after my grandmother, "but, the American translation." She told how she was going to name me Cheryl Constance, in honor of her mom. She said I would have had beautiful monograms with two "C"s in my name. {Don't snicker.}

As the story goes, when my mom announced to my dear grandmother that she was going to name me Cheryl Constance, my grandmother said if my mother wanted to use half of her name, she had to use all of it. Period. My grandmother, who was called Filomena even by her own daughters, always got her way with my mother. (And, my aunts, too!) So it was ... I was christened Phyllis Constance.

My family called me "Phyllis," except for my Aunt Christine who called me "Fifi." She didn't like the name either. But, it wasn't until I started first grade at Woodlawn Elementary School that I began to hate my first name.

If you Google "Phyllis," the first suggested entry is "Phyllis Diller." From Wikipedia comes this: "In the mid-1950s, she made appearances on The Jack Paar Show and was a contestant on Groucho Marx's quiz show You Bet Your Life.  Diller was part of the so-called "New Wave" comedians who began their careers after World War II and had no connections to vaudeville." She was loud. Her hair was wild. She wore outrageous costumes. And, the grown-ups loved her.

Diller on "Laugh In"
For those too young to remember this mid-century, modern woman, Diller was self-deprecating to a fault. A typical Diller joke had her running after a garbage truck pulling away from her curb. "Am I too late for the trash?" she'd yell. The driver's reply: "No, jump right in!"

Now that I think of it, she was, perhaps, the first in a new genre of comediennes that lead us to Roseanne. Their comedy comes from real life, with a twist. But, to a seven-year-old girl, it wasn't funny. It was mean spirited teasing from other first graders and by the end of my first year in school, I hated my name.

Other girls had names like Linda and Emily and Audrey and Diane. Real girl names. Names that said they were girls! I had "Phyllis," which sounded harsh and almost evil, like it was a curse. Which it was. Inevitably, in every new grade, in every new class, some sniggering jerk (males AND females) would make a joke about my name with a reference to Phyllis Diller. It didn't matter that Diller was so much more than a comedienne. She played piano. She painted. She made movies. She was an artist. It was her 'celebrity' status as a bawdy comedienne that made her my nemesis.

Then, I went to college. And, things changed.

During my sophomore year, I began an affair with my algebra professor. He lived aboard his sailboat and rode a bike everywhere. It was Key West in the early 1970s. At dinner one night, aboard his boat, he asked me about my name. He usually referred to me as "Miss P," and I suspected that he didn't like my name, but I was too afraid to ask. Anyway, this one evening I told him the story of my mother and how I got my name. When I had finished telling my story, he stated that he really liked "Constance." He said my middle name over and over, making silly sentences, causing me to feel silly. Then he announced that he was going to call me "Constance."  And, he did.

And, it stuck.

Here I am, 40+ years later, and 99% of the people in my life call me "Constance." My driver's license and passport have my first AND my middle name. It screws up the computers to go by anything other than your first name, but I prevailed. I found a way to keep it. And, I'm glad I did. I enjoy being "Constance."

Sometimes folks get confused and call me "Candace." I don't mind that so much. It's an easy mix up. However, I don't answer to "Connie." Again, another poor association with celebrities of the same name. It makes the hair on my arms stand up when someone reduces my name to THAT. I do try to be tolerant, but is it too much to ask for people to use your name the way you present it to them? If I introduce myself as "Bill," are you going to call me "William?"  If I tell you my name is "Margaret," are you going to refer to me as "Peggy?" What gives you the authority to change a person's name?

To young parents-to-be out there ... please give serious consideration to how the name you give your child will affect them throughout their life. I know I'm not the first person to say that, but I AM a person who had a name that caused unhappiness. It took many years to come to understand  that my mother meant well, but the truth is, "Cheryl" would have been so much better.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

losing track of time with paper dolls

When I was a girl, I spent hours playing paper dolls. I loved cutting out each individual fashion, oh, so carefully, and organizing them. I loved changing their clothes and pretending they were going to work, going to class, going on dates, going shopping ... my paper dolls did all the things that girls do as well as the things they dream of doing!

I later learned that the activity of cutting out the fashions was great for improving dexterity and eye-hand coordination. I found it amazing that something I loved to do could have so many benefits aside from the "play value!"

I had two friends who loved paper dolls as much as I did and we would meet at one house or another and play. We would each show up with our folders filled with cutout dolls and their fashions and we played for what seemed like hours, often forgetting to go home for dinner! It was such a wonderful time to be a girl child!

For the better part of a year now I have been messing around with watercolor painting, imitating the style of other, more accomplished artists as I try to find my own style. I've never taken a painting class, though it is something I hope to one day be able to do, so the internet has been a rich source of inspiration for me as I make my way through the kinds of paint (there are many), the colors (there are more!) and the papers and brushes used to create watercolor paintings.

Sophie + Lili painting
It became an exercise for me to, first,  admire the work of an artist in some faraway place, then attempt to copy their style and/or technique. Oh, and, I bought a book about watercolor painting which has been helpful. But, as they say, you learn by doing, so I'm doing as much as I can as often as I can.

Recently, I stumbled on art from Sophie + Lili and pinned some of their watercolor paintings to my Pinterest board. Sophie + Lili began life as a boutique children's clothing line for girls, but has evolved to become a signature collection of dolls that capture the imagination, and the personality, of little girls at play. I was hooked!

It's funny the things that stick in your head. I kept going back to my Pinterest board and looking at those Sophie + Lili paintings, admiring them, studying them, much as I had done with paper dolls when I was a little girl.

Finally, one day not so very long ago, I was inspired to attempt imitation.

I used Talons transparent watercolors set of 24 on Canson Montval cold pressed watercolor paper measuring 5.5 inches by 8.5 inches. I used two brushes, a generic 0 round synthetic brush and 00 Windsor & Newton brush from Series 233. The brushes were the perfect size for the scale of the paper and I learned a lot about loading paint into the brush.

Do you remember what it was like to do something for long periods and lose complete track of time? It seems that we all did it a lot as children. Then, somewhere along the way, something happens and we forget.

I guess we're just too busy being grownups. It's a fact of life that the world moves really fast. Speed limit on the Interstate is 70 mph. We measure time in nanoseconds and computers deliver information in real time. So, I ask you ... who can afford to lose track of time?

Well, I couldn't afford it, but I did it anyway! Ask me if I had fun doing it. YOU BET! I had such a fine time making these pictures that I made more than one!

I'm telling you now, the odds are I will continue to make them (with different outfits, of course!) because it's just so much fun to do! There is no socially redeeming value. I can't sell them. I'm not even sure I could give them away! I'm learning a lot about perspective, relationships between objects and things like that. But, what I really love is when I'm painting and I lose track of time and look at the clock and realize I've been doing this far longer than I had planned! What joy!!!

Just for the heck of it,
here are a couple of
my watercolor "paper dolls."
I hope you like them!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

housekeeping on the blog

I spent a couple of hours this morning, in between other work-related tasks, clicking on the links in  "My Favorites" list over there, to the right. I was surprised to find that some of the blogs I once followed faithfully hadn't updated their blog in months or, in some cases, years. That just goes to prove how rapidly our digital consumption habits are changing, doesn't it? Once, I poured over blogs filled with fantastic photos and confessions of creativity. Now, I can get that digital fix in byte size increments via Instagram and Tumblr.

My, how things have changed.

Which begs the question. How many social media outlets can one person maintain?

If you've followed my blog for a while (and, there are a few folks out there who check in now and again) you may remember I was obsessed with Pinterest for a period of time. Now, I have 2,500+ followers and am way less obsessed with it or any other social networking outlet.

I think Facebook continues to be my favorite way to keep in touch with friends ... the ones who live across town and the ones who live across the country ... and, while I like being a presence on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Flickr ... oh, and My365! Well, they definitely took me away from my blog and my all time favorite task of W R I T I N G!!!
Poppy Parker housekeeping ...

Back to "My Favorites" list. I edited it today. I consider it a housekeeping task. I added some artists who I follow faithfully, still, and whose work will certainly inspire you. And, I've added a couple of fashion doll links, too.

You may have noticed that I've changed the look of my blog with a new banner and some different style choices. I thought it might be nice to freshen things up a bit as we approach the New Year. The photo of the pink flowers was taken in my backyard one fine Florida February day. We stopped at a very cool roadside stand at the 88 mile marker in the Florida Keys several years ago, and when I saw these flowers, blooming in a pot, I said to my darling husband, "We have to take these home!" So, we did! And, twice a year we are treated to these beautiful blooms!

If you visit my blog, I hope you will find something that inspires you, even if it's from a link on  "My Favorites" list!

Enjoy your day! I'm going to make something now!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

end of the year, new beginnings

welcoming the Christmas spirit.

decorating the house with Santas.

wondering if I'll get to see my youngest grandchildren this year.

sorting all the dolls and goodies I got at the Integrity Toy Convention in November.

sharing Christmas decorations with my granddaughter.

reading the December issue of WIRED magazine, guest edited by Bill Gates.

enjoying my new, "convention exclusive" Poppy Parker dolls.

mixing & matching my old clothes to create new looks

planting a little vegetable garden with my darling husband.

drinking red wine with dinner, still.

planning ways to create more writing time.

waiting for the arrival of the "Catching Fire" version of Katniss Everdeen Barbie.

trying to find balance at one of the most hectic times of year.