Thursday, March 12, 2009

Writing - Oh, man! It's so difficult!

Wordle: A Norman Rockwell Vocabulary

One of the things I continually strive for is to become a better writer. The biggest problem is that I just don't write enough. I'm not a published author and don't rely on writing for any kind of financial need. I also am not a great journal writer. It always feels like a chore and the many times that I've been forced to (usually for university classes), I've hated every minute of it.
At times, though, inspiration hits and I write a short story or memoir, tuck the file away on my hard drive, and rarely if ever look at it again.
This past Christmas, on a snowy evening, inspiration hit once again and I actually got up the nerve to print a few copies and include them with our seasonal card sending frenzy. After some feedback from friends and family and my own reflection, I look back at this piece of writing with a certain fondness that is lacking from my earlier attempts and think that maybe I've progressed to the point where my creation is actually bearable to read. It feels preachy at the end and the similes are forced but still makes me smile when I read it back.
I've included it as a part of my first blog post ever and hope that you enjoy it.


My Perfect Painting
An Essay by Clayton Willms

I am in a Norman Rockwell painting. We're talking ultra republican Norman Rockwell here. Ever since I was a kid, I've always loved those paintings, as silly as that sounds. Coke Santas and snow hills. Kids and swings. It's the nostalgia, as I'm sure you well know. My own Rockwell painting is forming live around me as I sit on my couch this December 8th. The lights are dimmed low and we are all relaxing after a long day.
It's quiet. Quiet enough that I can hear the faint buzz of the light bulb above me. An ambulance that I'm sure is miles away softly whines. It slowly becomes a bit louder before fading away. Dying out. I hope the occupant fares better than the siren.
I love this short quiet time between our hectic December days and the cozy nights of slumber and dreams. The rug is warm and soothing beneath my aching feet. It's cold outside and for the moment the rain has let up. It's song is finished and the cloud dancers clear the floor to regather their strength for the next number. The moon, jealous of those other dancers, takes this chance to peek out and show off his shine. The only thing to make this scene better would be to have a good five feet of snow on the ground.
Back inside, my perfectly groomed dog 'Mason' is lying in a ball at my feet. He makes an excellent family pet. Every day when I walk in the door, he greets me with a big grin and a wagging tail that would lift his butt off the ground if it moved any faster. He circles my feet with the enthusiasm only my father-in-law in a Porsche dealership could match. Right now though, he's dozing. Silent except for the occasional doggy sigh. I'm sure he's dreaming about chasing rabbits in the countryside or fetching a stick at Brule Lake.
The fire sits there crackling away, making sounds like an October walk through the leaves; it's only job to give warmth. It is unaware of any cares in the world, except perhaps it's own slow dwindle toward embers and ash.
Chloe is lying in Sunshine's arms and drinking her nightly bottle. With each gulp she makes a sound. Just a little sound. It's soft and seems to me to represent the epitome of relaxation and contentment. Each coo swells my heart with amazement and astonishment until I think it might burst. Even after ten months, I'm amazed at how deep that well of love goes. I keep thinking that it will fill but it never does. Will it ever? I don't think so. Nope, nope, nope.
Sunshine glances over at me and smiles, seeming to sense how this moment could last forever. She's beautiful. No metaphors or similes needed here. Just that one word, beautiful.
So this is my painting. My small eternal etch in a history that will never make the books. A moment that's mine alone to cherish. Perfect. Rockwell.
Then a change.
A small, barely noticeable change occurs that begins to peel away the layers of paint in my perfect moment.
As I'm gazing into the fire, transfixed by flame and spark, a phantom hand in a plaid sleeve moves into my field of vision. It's holding a fire prod and proceeds to fix the logs in such a way so that new flame bursts through the spaces. When the phantom is satisfied, it throws another log on. Sparks scurry upwards but I can't see where they go because the top of my t.v. set gets in the way. Sunshine remarks on how she thinks that Shaw cable should pay someone to tend the fire twenty-four hours a day because she's sick of seeing the same logs burning over and over. "It should be like live t.v.," she insists, "That would be cool."
So much for my Rockwell fire.
I'm trying to stay in the painting though. This eternal moment is just too cuddly and comforting to be ruined by the cable t.v. phantom hand in the plaid sleeve.
Then Mason farts.
I hear it first and hate my past experience that tells me I'll smell it all too soon. I know it's one of the bad ones too because it's not loud and 'flappy.' It's coming like a ninja. You know...silent but deadly. The ninja cometh.
So much for my Rockwell pet.
The painting is definitely fading now. I'm almost resigned to it but hold out just a little hope for the eternal moment to last a bit longer.
Chloe finishes her bottle, sits up and promptly makes her ready-to-puke face. Uh oh. Maybe she smelled Mason's 'exhale.' Thankfully, she just lets out a nice lady-like burp. That is, if a lady's burp sounds like a jackhammer on a tin roof. Sunshine looks at me and laughs. We both do, actually. It's a true laugh, one from the gut. Laughs like this only ever come from a goofy surprise or the surprisingly bizarre. A lumberjack belch from a sleepy toddler fits into both categories so we just laugh harder.
Then the ninja comes. And as always, just as soon as you've forgotten him, he pounces. Sunshine glances at me again, not with a smile and a sense of the wonderful lasting moment, but with a grimace of mild horror at the smell that is now present. My painting fades a bit more and then winks out of existence when I realize that the smell is not coming from Mason.
So much for my Rockwell family.
We play rock-paper-scissors to decide who gets the change. I lose. Damn you, rock.
As I'm climbing the stairs towards Chloe's room, to do a chore that God must have put in place only to keep us humble, I realize that I don't mourn the loss of my Rockwell painting. It was nice but that's it. Nice. It was a wonderful snapshot of just a single moment. What makes it truly special and totally worthless at the same time is that it is a moment among thousands. Millions. Billions and more. All of these moments, good and bad, are what make up the true painting of my life. Sunshine's life. Chloe's life. Your life.
My life painting is not kids on swings and fishin' in the pond. It's not baseball on Saturday and church on Sunday. And even though it could be, it's not a walk to school along a white picket fence with my books in one hand, my lunch in the other and the sun warming my backside. It's that and more. Infinitely more. It's the sour with the sweet. The cold and the heat. The classical music and the phat rap beat. It's definitely my really bad rhyming and hopefully my engaging writing. The ironies, conflicts, failures and victories. The histories of sad stories and the nostalgia brought from the memory of happy times. That's true Rockwell.
Sorry Norman, your painting was good but I like mine better. :)


  1. Loved this story...just as I loved following your professional journey in your "forced university" course work :-)

  2. Truly, a picture of contentment...great to recognize this moment in our crazy busy world..Kudos..