Friday, September 29, 2023

Frogs and linocuts

Yesterday I looked into Marshmallow's habitat and she was...acting strange. I alerted Benjamin to this fact and he checked on her, refreshed her water, and found some grubs to see if he could tempt her to eat. She seemed to perk up a bit and was hopping around for awhile. However, when we returned from our walk, we found Benjamin sobbing on the couch. 

Marshmallow had died while we were out and Benjamin was, in Zoë's words, inconsolable.

Rather, she said, "I do not know how to console him. He is too sad for me to console."

He was quite sad, and is quite sad. And that's okay.

I believe it was Alexander who quipped that at least Marshmallow was in heaven now. 

Benjamin rebuffed this attempt at comfort, telling us all that he'd "been to a website about how to help people after their pets die and one of the worst things to say is that they're in a better place so it's okay because it's not okay!"

"You're right," I said. "It's sad and it sucks."

I don't use that word terribly often, and neither did my mother, but I do remember that one time when something truly sucky happened, my mother had told me that there was really just no other word for it—whatever happened had just plain sucked

 Now, I should clarify that we mean this as slang for something that is unfavourable or downright undesirable (and not in the vulgar sense of the word). 

I also think it's worth mentioning that I don't even remember what it was that...sucked...just that it unquestionably did. What I actually remember was my mother's empathy. This tells me that even when things are categorically awful, it's very possible that I will reach a point in my life when I can't even remember. Also, my mother is wonderful.

Anyway, I mentioned that I try to limit the use of this word, right? But I also have a toddler. So naturally Phoebe, who was sitting on the kitty's scratching post, spinning around on the loose top (which she keeps telling the kitty is "No, no, no, kitty! Phoebe toy!"), picked up on this new (and somewhat illicit) word and started singing, "It sucks! Sucks! Sucks! Sucks! It sucks! It sucks! It sucks!" as she spun around and around.

So...that's great.

Anyway, we let Benjamin cry and feel angry about it and stay up late to read, and then sent him to bed. He slept in a bit this morning and then wrote about Marshmallow during his free writing time (I presume...I, uh, haven't actually gotten around to reading his writing from this was a busy day!).

We'd talked last night about productive rather than destructive grief, and how one kind helps you figure out how to hold and handle your big feelings, while the other often comes about when you get stuck in the less savoury phases of grief (which he'd also read up on). Like, you can get mad about hard things (including but not limited to deaths of loved ones), just don't get stuck there because although it might feel as if the world has stopped spinning, I assure you it has not! You've got to figure out how to keep living, and how to bring the best of what was lost with you. 

We talked about how creating something often helps to bind of a wounded heart, especially if that creation has something to do with what or who was lost. Many poems, musical scores, books, paintings, sculptures, etc. have—at their root—a painful trigger that inspired their creation. And these things help us to continue to see the beauty of the world (or reveal the truth of suffering, any number of things, really). 

Benjamin decided that he'd like to make a linocut of Marshmallow, so we largely dedicated our school day to that endeavor. (He also would like to make a Minecraft world for Marshmallow—though he's made a goal to only play Minecraft on the weekends—and decorate one of the chairs we made on Saturday in Marshmallow's honour). 

After the kids had done their free writing (that was not without some tears of sorrow on Benjamin's part), I had them look up some drawing tutorials for frogs so they could practice and get some inspiration. They did a cartoon tutorial and a more realistic tutorial, and Benjamin finally ended up with a pencil drawing that he liked. 

I helped him transfer his frog onto a block and then he carved away while the girls and I read a couple acts of Hamlet out loud and researched the history of tennis, which we did not realize was such an old game (it's mentioned in Hamlet, that's why we looked it up).

In the background you can see Phoebe climbing on the cat tower, which she also thinks belongs to Phoebe:

We tape cardboard down when we do linocuts at the kitchen table because one time before we thought to do this someone's knife slipped and gouged the table up quite badly (it'm the one who gouged the table).

At some point, Alexander also wanted to make a linocut, but on rubber since the blocks are too difficult for him to carve. So I had him draw along with a few tutorials on pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns. He filled pages and pages with pumpkins by the time I was ready to help him transfer his design onto he rubber (which is much softer and easier to carve—perfect for his five-year-old (almost six-year-old) hands). I do not remember what I was doing while he was drawing all those million pumpkins, but here he is working on carving out the mouth:

Before we left on our mid-day walk, we managed to ink Benjamin's frog, adjust the design, and make a number of prints.

It's amazing the gamut of principles you need to be familiar with to produce a successful linocut! We talked about symmetry (you must carve your design backwards so that it ends up the right way when you make your prints; this is particularly important if you are using words in your designs (as Zoë is), less important if it's just a frog or a pumpkin); we talked about cutting away from one's self and keeping our fingers away from the carving tools (a very good life lesson, if you ask me—we just ran into our poor neighbour Miss S—, who recently cut one of her fingers, severing a tendon and some important nerves, ending up having surgery and will need physical therapy once she gets out of her bandages and things); we talked about colour theory since our only ink colours are red, yellow, blue, and black (we made a lovely forest green and burnt orange for our prints today).

So it wasn't precisely the school day I had planned, but I think we learned enough and I think what we learned was important. (We also did math; we always do math and amazingly—and not without a great amount of effort on both our parts—Benjamin is precisely where he should be in his textbook at this point in the school year).

We left Benjamin's prints out to dry while we were walking and then mixed up our orange to make Alexander's prints when we got home (while Miriam finished her carving and helped Zoë get started on hers).

Here's Alexander pressing the paper onto his carving using the back of a spoon:

And here he is, having peeled it off his carving, quite pleased with the result:

I carved a line the outside of the pumpkin, but he took off the rest of the background. He also carved the eyes, nose, and mouth. I helped him add some of the details, like the scars, though he also made some of the lines on the pumpkin. Sometimes it's nice to add a little "texture" to designs, rather than having a big field of undisturbed ink.

By the time we had finished making Alexander's prints (we just continue to make prints until we run out of ink on our inking board, usually), Miriam was ready to mix up some orange for herself. She used yellow, red, and blue because she wanted a lighter orange than Alexanders (we used yellow, red, and black for his). Her orange ended up being almost the exact same shade as ours, though, so apparently we still have more to learn about colour theory!

We thought Rosie would probably be a fan of the orange colours that we made, so we'll have to pop a little Halloween greeting in the mail for her.

Miriam made a carving of a pumpkin carving a pumpkin (based off of characters from Over the Garden Wall), here she is revealing one of her finished prints:

After (public) school let out, Benjamin buried Marshmallow out in the garden, alongside his buddy Reed. That is, Reed helped Benjamin bury Marshmallow (Reed wasn't buried alongside Marshmallow; that would be somewhat of a dilemma, wouldn't it?). 

I think Benjamin is feeling better, though I caught him misting the inside of Marshmallow's former home before he went to bed. 

"What'cha doing, buddy?"

"What? Oh, I'm just misting...oh."

Losses like this really do leave holes in our hearts (and our routines). I think it's productive—to a point—to cry your eyes out on the couch and to get good and angry about it, but eventually I think it's healthier to remember that there's still beauty in the world, that you can seek out that beauty or—better yet—be a part of that beauty, and to bring the best bits of whatever—or whoever—you lost with you into that beautiful (but hard, because life is so often hard) future you're forging.

So today we made froggy linocuts. It was a beautiful but hard (and rather messy) undertaking, and I think we're the better for it.

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