P. S. Krøyer, Summer Evening on Skagen Sønderstrand
All I wanted to do after college was write. Even applied for underwriter jobs, until I found out what that involved. Then – a writing job! Copywriting, but still, writing. For money. Green, grass green was I. All business people are businesslike, yes? Truth-in-advertising laws were real laws, like “don’t rob banks,” yes? I blush red at the recollection. Navigating my way through this particular purgatory, two steadfast Virgils were my guides: Janice and Nancy. Five years older than I, they had started out as journalists. We all had gone to small colleges in the Midwest: Macalester, Luther, Carleton. Places you went when you wanted an education more than a posh name on a diploma. When you wanted to learn more than to drink. When you wanted some serenity while you learned. Places with a what’s true? ethic. Their first lesson? Stick with one syllable words. Make it simple. Cut to the chase. But they also showed me how older women – even slightly older women – look after those coming along. How it’s easier to go to the boss and fight for another colleague than to fight for one’s self. But maybe she returns the favor. How to bring up another woman’s idea, and credit her while you did it. Otherwise, some man would claim credit. How to share everything you can with your galpals – with the men, too, but it’s the women who appreciate it. How it’s not a zero-sum game – share, share, share! But if we don’t stick together, we’ll get nowhere. We sold manufactured collectibles. Artists created large, round paintings on a topic of the company’s choosing. Reproduced as eight inch decals, they were slapped on plain white plates, fired in a kiln, and marketed as art. Which meant a high per-plate cost – $100 or more. Never think of eating off one – to hype the colors, they're chock full of heavy metals. Just look. Our CEO stapled his stomach. But he couldn’t pin down his love for food. He threw up every night to eat more. Then, while his esophagus erupted, he rethought everything. . Once, he had commissioned a Minnesota artist with a nice Minnesota name – Olsen? – to create four dragon plate paintings. The sci-fi/fantasy market! So big! So loyal! So willing to spend, spend, spend! He ate General Tsao’s Chicken. Barfed. Then Moo Shu Pork. On his third Tums, he thought “Dragons? Sci-fi dragons? Am I crazy? Make ‘em Chinese!” Janice nudged me to keep my face still. Someone else had to tell him it was too expensive to change the art. Instead, he got someone to spell the syllables "ol" and "sen" in Chinese characters and change the signature. My job? Meander through the mists of time … discover (make up) four venerable Chinese legends involving dragons. Preferably legends explaining why they didn’t look like normal Chinese dragons. They came from away, I suggested. My four venerables appeared for inspection the day after the boss had spent the night slaloming between a three-course dinner and the required regurgitation. Followed by the Tums regime. He had not slept all night. The people on the dragon project were idiots! Who could sleep when the firm’s whole future depended on us? “Dragons are down-market semantics. Rewrite this without the word ‘dragon.’” “The dragon artwork stays in the brochure?” “Of course!” “What the hell is down-market semantics?” Nancy explained: if potential customers hear about something that makes them sad or anxious, that’s downmarket semantics, and it disinclines one to splurge $200 on plates you can’t eat off of. Dragons, it seems, make people sad. Also, nervous. At least people who’ve stapled their stomachs and have insomnia as a result. They don’t think of friendly Puff. They think of death. I thought of leaving. But I wasn’t always at work. Once, I saw an exhibit called Northern Lights. Left me haunted by its loveliness. Never had thought about non-folk Scandinavian artists. Then I saw their work. Their land of the midnight sun. That light – blue, infinite. A gift. Especially my new, most favorite painting. Two women walking toward a horizon you can’t see. The sky simply slips into the sea. No sunset, just a sky – quivering for its blue to start shimmering in sunset pinks – while knowing it won’t. Why had I never seen this painting before? One week later, the exhibit would have closed. Where else would I have encountered it? If you’re an icon in Denmark, it’s not like being the toast of Paris. Or the US. But this painting has danced in my mind -- vivid, serene, light and dark -- for decades. What other beauty am I missing?
For April 21, write a poem about a person you’ve lost contact with, a job you once had, an artwork you love, and throw in an unanswerable question.