by Phoebe Sparrow Wagner (formerly Pamela Spiro Wagner)
I will never forget The Dress. Worn only once, with three quarter-length sleeves cuffed in white, and a demure white collar, it had two layers of navy blue crepe skirting, with a dropped waist and a sash. This was the first “dressy” dress I ever picked out all on my own.
The first thing about The Dress was that it was not the pale pink tent that I had worn to my first mixer with Sheffield Academy, which I was convinced scared away my freckled red-haired date, not that I minded much, once I saw him dance. The second thing about The Dress was the look in the eyes of the boy at the Gunnery, where my second mixer was held. This boy was matched with me strictly by height. I don’t know why, but something clicked with us, and the first thing he said to me, to my huge relief, was, “I hate dancing, don’t you? Let’s take a walk.” With that, we linked arms and spent the evening strolling arm in arm around his campus.
To say that nothing happened would seem almost hilarious these days, except that nothing did, besides our shared and passionate discussion of Plato and the books we’d read and other schoolish stuff. By the time the bells rang to call everyone back to the buses, I knew, because after all, I was a teenage girl who had read books, what might happen. I also knew, because I was an avid fan of the advice columnist Ann Landers, that no self-respecting young girl allowed a kiss on her first date. We had been walking arms around each other’s waist all evening; I liked him, it was equally clear that he liked me. It was inevitable what would happen next. But I was a good girl. What to do?
I tried to say good-bye, smiling sadly and keeping the distance that would protect me. My adoring young man nevertheless leaned in to kiss me. Turning my cheek, I rebuffed him. I did not mean to hurt his feelings, but I knew that Ann Landers was watching me and would be happy my virginity was safe. As I climbed onto the bus with a heavy heart, I looked back and waved but my date was nowhere to be seen. I took my seat, feelings mixed about whether the rebuff had truly been a success.
Then someone behind me spoke. “Good for you, Pammy, not kissing the black boy!”
What? I looked at her. My classmate was smiling grimly. “You didn’t kiss that -–“ and she used the terrible word I had never heard anyone say to my face.
In that moment, I knew that if I could have, I would have raced off the bus and grabbed that young man and kissed him full on the lips, and to hell with Ann Landers and her crappy advice.
But it was too late to change anything. Too late to let him know why I had not kissed him, too late to kiss him in spite of my classmates and too late to spite Ann Landers and my proper upbringing. Too late, too late, too late. I never wore that dress again.
This short account, all too true, won first place at Vermont’s Counterpoint’s annual writing contest in 2015. You can see it and the other first place winner at
Below is my very first painting done in about 2009 or 2010 when I was first starting to do art. I called it First Love, and now you know why.
Work in progress, but unfinished…
This is the finished portrait STUDY of my friend Mott’s grandson Dylan (the final portrait will be in oils but this one is a study done in my note book in acrylics, with the background still a bit wet):
I left my fingers holding this uncropped so you could get an idea of just how small the portrait really is. Watercolors and caran d’ache luminance pencils.
The following poem is by sufi muslim poet Hafiz, and it just blows me away:
“Light will someday split you open
Even if your life is now a cage,
For a divine seed, the crown of destiny,
Is hidden and sown on an ancient, fertile plain
You hold the title to…
Love will surely bust you wide open
Into an unfettered, blooming new galaxy
Even if your mind is now
A spoiled mule.
A life-giving radiance will come,
The Friend’s gratuity will come
O look again within yourself,
For I know you were once the elegant host
To all the marvels in creation.
From a sacred crevice in your body
A bow rises each night
And shoots your soul into God.
Behold the Beautiful Drunk Singing One
From the lunar vantage point of love.
He is conducting the affairs
Of the whole universe
While throwing wild parties
In a tree house – on a limb
In your heart.”
(Sorry but my last post about their use of the restraint chair was very unexpectedly deleted…i still have the draft and can find the emailed comments, but i dunno that i have the heart to repost it unless someone requests it…)
i started this portrait, derived from photographs seen in a National Geographic magazine lying around on Unit D, with the detested Crayola pencils that had to be a requisite 4 inches long or shorter…but eventually i was permitted to use ( and try to repair the portraits) with my Caran D’ache pencils, though it is very hard to try to layer anything over crayolas, especially on paper that is too thin to accept multiple layers…
Maybe this is meaningful, since I was thinking about con-artists, and maybe not…but I did not know what I was drawing or why until hours later…
These are two very different paintings, clearly…The top one is the one most people like. For obvious reasons, as it causes less pain…I did it for them. The bottom one is about me…but no one likes it though I don’t care. Both are for sale if anyone is interested. Please get in touch with me by email or comment box to discuss price and shipping…
Art is all in reverse order of when it was done. If anyone is interested in buying, let me know. (Only some are for sale. Others are taken or donated already.)
Actually, all the above was done in my apartment in Brattleboro, after I moved there. What follows was done before I moved here. Either in the interim, in Sheffield, or while I was looking for a place and living with a friend in CT.
Jason DeRulo, painted with fantastic CARAN D’ACHE Lumiere pencils, among the most expensive yet worth every penny. smooth and incredibly buttery color that just swipes on…Yet hard enough to keep a point and not crumble under pressure.
Just make sure you sharpen each pencil by hand as you don’t want to waste a smidgen of these valuable tools!
I have loaded a DeRulo music vide (lyrics) to go with my portrait, but who knows how long it will remain playable. ANy opinions on portrait welcome. I had to imagine the colors from a B&W photo, then imagine Derulo again, having reversed the orientation horizontally so his left becomes his right etc.
(Now it might not look like him at all, taken from the mirror reversal of the photo.) Enjoy song for as long as I can keep it here. (since embed buttons exist, I have to assume it is okay to “borrow” these vids.
Would love your opinion.
PS am very very sleepy so not entirely sure I am uploading anything that makes sense. If not, forgive me. I will do better after a nap!
Although I usually draw with my right hand, this portrait sketch of the young Theodore Roosevelt was drawn with my left, and is much freer and (I would hope) truer to life than the right-handed portrait I had drawn earlier. I started with ballpoint pen, then “corrected” with green, brown and blue pencils in sequence. Eyes, TR’s right eye especially, still aren’t right, but I couldn’t do any more corrections on this particular sketch. Better luck or one would hope more skill maybe, next time…
I dunno that more need be said about this picture except that Tim is a dear friend and I owed him this turtle for two years before it was actually finished…
I am serious. I sent this portrait of Barack Obama to the White House in January 2014, and only just received a small form card, saying nothing personal, only that the “gift was received” from the American people, thank you very much…and Obama and Michelle’s signatures scrawled on the bottom, as if that means anything to me. He clearly didn’t send it to me personally to thank me for any portrait. WTF. I spent HOURS drawing that very closely detailed portrait, first in graphite, then I had to copy it, before I hand painted the background and certain details over the copy. I am really really upset. EVERYONE i know here loved that portrait and encouraged me to send it to Obama, but I was worried that he wouldn’t like it or perhaps it would be destroyed by the Secret Service because of looking for anthrax or something stupid like that under the swarovski crystal that are glued on the background. Like i said, WTF. I am never sending anyone important any of my artwork again. The wealthy and important clearly don’t get the rules of common courtesy, do they?
I also finished a good drawing of a house in Tuscany, Italy and a painting of a child I started a long time ago, which I will post here. (The house drawing is at the framers, where it is being matted because it is too large for a precut mat. I am sorry that I have posted the painting with little faked watermarks on it, but I do not like the fact that people can simply print out my pictures otherwise and not have to pay me for the prints or the paintings…)
As for the rest, I am coping, that is all I can say. I try to “fake it till I will be able to make it” — meaning that I do not tell people how difficult it is, most of the time, because that only makes it harder. If I can try to ignore as much as possible what is going on that is all for the best. And when I cannot, I stay by myself and try to deal with it. Or i see someone, my therapist or a person I have hired to stay with me. Or I simply tough it out as best I can. Things could be worse. After all, I am not in the hospital and I have to keep telling myself that! 8)
In the meantime, I don’t have a lot to say. Doing art takes all my time and energy, and the rest is spent simply dealing with things and coping. Forgive me. I will be back. I just wanted to post this to allay anyone’s fear that I was back in the bin.