Left to right

What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from. – T.S. Eliot.

Stain for Pectus carinatum (Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn, 10 June 2020)

Prior to being the woman sitting peacefully by the pool in her skinny little polka dot bikini, the swimmer who dares remove the top before cannonballing unabashedly into the water,1 she was these people.

Toothpick, in her blue jeans, white turtleneck, green hoody, and bowler hat.

Florence Belleville, née Toothpick, previously known as Winter Waters2, dressed in greyish brown pants and a simple pink sweater over a white turtleneck.

And Frankie, formerly Toothpick, here clad in a brown kepi hat, a pair of burnt umber colored pants, and a white turtleneck over which she wears a blue-collared yellow jacket.

Pectus carinatum (14 June 2020)

If Pectus carinatum were a piece of literature, it would be an illustrated choose-your-own-adventure type of memoir titled The Book of Florence. If this book were written in Arabic, then it would read from right to left3.

Let us begin, then, with Frankie.

Chapter 1

Frankie

Frankie is a stubborn, hard-headed mule; an impudent, know-it-all smarty-pants; a defiant, hot-tempered bull shark; a loner, a bookworm. Amongst the things Frankie despises most in the whole world, the top three are 1) milk, 2) being given advice when she hasn’t asked for it, and 3) being told what to do by anyone whose reasoning she deems faulty, irrational, unreasonable or absurd. Her mother, for example. No sooner does this poor mother of eleven turn her back and Frankie is grumbling under her breath, “Toi, tais-toi, pour une fois!” or “Ferme-la donc, toi, ta gueule!”

If her father told her what to do, Frankie would listen. But he doesn’t tell her what to do. He doesn’t even scold her for things that merit a good scolding. Drawing all over the cover of his old Bible, for example. He must have known it was her; why hadn’t he said anything? He could have asked her why she’d done it; he could have told her to say she was sorry. She would have said I’m sorry and I miss you, and things would have gone back to the way they were. But they never will, and though she is unclear on the why or the how, she understands that she is to blame. What had she done, exactly? She can’t remember. Just that it was bad. That she’s a bad girl. That it’s her own fault if her father doesn’t pay attention to her, if he doesn’t love her. She doesn’t deserve his attention; she doesn’t deserve his love. She must not, then, deserve anyone’s attention; she must not, then, deserve anyone’s love. Only punishment4.

Which brings us to the subject of chapter two: Florence Belleville, née Toothpick, previously known as Winter Waters.

Chapter 2

Florence Belleville

From a distance, Florence appears the portrait of confidence and control. Up close, she is just Frankie essentially, which is to say a scared, lonely, wounded child.

A new divorcée, Florence lives in a beautiful one-bedroom apartment on Adelphi Street in Brooklyn, not far from the school where she teaches French, and only a stone’s throw from Fort Greene Park where she power walks every morning and sometimes again in the evening. She must! This is New York City, in case anybody forgot. For every eligible straight man living in this zoo there are 1.07 women. That’s practically one and a half, which may as well be two, though it feels more like three or four! All of them younger and prettier than she is! At 43, Florence Belleville is a dinosaur!

A dinosaur with fake boobs, we should add, one who suffers not only from an enervating auto-immune disease against which only death seems the best antidote most days, but also from a deep sadness and a profound emptiness that have been following her around now for as long as she can remember. Where do they come from, these things? If the answer to this query has escaped her until now, it is because Florence has avoided asking the hard questions, avoided doing the work. She is about to now, though. And luckily for her, she has her mother’s blood running through her veins. If there is one thing Florence has in common with the woman who brought her into the world, it is that she knows how to get shit done5.

This shit being heavy existential shit, however, Florence won’t be able to do it alone. She will need the help of the big gun, the head honcho, the high muck-a-muck, the fat cat, the chief. That’s right: God. And therein lies the problem. Except perhaps to disparage him, Florence hasn’t thought about that guy in many, many moons. As in too many to count6.

Which brings us to the next chapter, the one about Toothpick.

Chapter 3

Toothpick

Toothpick is a child of God. Consequently, she is precious and therefore 100% lovable.

Amongst the things Toothpick loves most in the world, in order of increasing importance: 1) her black stallion horse figurine, 2) her book Morgan Morning, 3) her schoolbag in which she keeps the stallion, Morgan Morning, a bunch of Ticonderoga number 2 pencils, and her drawings, 4) Johnny Colorful7, and 5) Vlegie8.

And now if you’ll excuse her, Toothpick must be going; she’s currenlty on a mission from God. It’s time to put this lady Florence to work.9 She is about to walk past a stain on the ground that looks like a woman walking her dog, her birds, and her little angry whale10, see, and God needs Toothpick to maneuver Florence into stopping and taking a picture of it; he needs her to go home and draw it and then paint it on one of the pages from the pad of watercolor paper he had left for her on that stoop near her apartment a few weeks back. From there, he needs her to get Florence to paint, amongst other things, the hunched over armless woman, the bird in the wolf pelt, the little girl holding the snowball, the lion with the ponytail, the woman and the fox riding a horse, the aquatic figures on their lily pads, the big-haired girl kicking the soccer ball, not to mention the swimmer and his frog, and the cow playing tennis, and all those pissed-off woodland creatures, but also the alien and his dog, the birds who say goodbye and those who say goodnight, and the sexy French-speaking Lebanese architect.

This work is urgent; Florence’s life depends on it.

__________________________________________

And that, dear reader, concludes the project I set out to accomplish of writing a weekly blog on my artwork for one full year. If it saddens you the way it saddens me to see it draw to a close, I invite you to do what Frankie always did upon reading the last sentence of a book she hated to see end: go back to the beginning, go back to where it all began, to the woman walking her dog, her birds, and her little angry whale.

The writer’s work station with Toothpick (left) and Frankie (right) overseeing the work.

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  1. See Naked as the day. ↩︎
  2. See Winter Waters. ↩︎
  3. See With love, from Toothpick for the discussion of another piece which also reads from left to right. ↩︎
  4. See Love is forgiveness and Ça bon, Fanny Fox! ↩︎
  5. See Real work and Yes, daddy. ↩︎
  6. See The rightful king. ↩︎
  7. See Welcome back, boys. ↩︎
  8. See This time around. ↩︎
  9. Why would God ask a child to do his work for him? See The watchmen. ↩︎
  10. See Art is a fortune teller. ↩︎

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