Learning to listen, learning to wait

After doing my first interview as a practice in long form writing, I was inspired to make a mosaic of my subject. I first started this blog to practice writing, thinking I would focus on the personal essay. Over the past couple of months, though, I have been experimenting with other things, like writing on philosophy, writing poetry, making mosaics, thinking about painting, listening to jazz and practicing the piano. My childhood piano was introduced to my grownup house in December, through a series of serendipitous events. I’ve been focusing on Beethoven. I have ever so many ideas for more personal essays after this incubation period. 

The art of the interview pulls me. I’m a full extrovert. I love being around people and interacting with them and hearing what they have to say. The interview helps me restrain the interaction and focus on listening, something I’m not very good at. There is a lot of power in listening and I want to harness it. I’ve been interviewing people I know. In each interview, I’ve seen another side or seen more deeply who the subjects really are because I’m not waiting to jump in with my volley across the net of conversation. It feels so good to let that silence sit after someone finishes talking, with no need for me to fill it.

I started  Mosaic No. 2 before my second interview. I based it on a picture I took of my subject. I drew the outlines of the mosaic on a white sheet of paper on a beautiful sunny day a couple of weeks ago. She had been wearing a sweatshirt with her hair casually twisted up in a clip, but the effect in the simple ink drawing with very little detail was not casual. I liked that.

Ink on paper outline for Mosaic No. 2.
Ink on paper outline for Mosaic No. 2.
The variety of colors in my mosaic stones is very limited. I wanted this cameo mosaic to make a pair with Mosaic No. 1, so I had to think about how the two would interact. I used the yellow stones for her skin and the dark grey stones for her hair. I had the background be reddish pink and white. It contrasted well with his yellow hair, peach skin and bright blue background.

Trying out mosaic stone colors on the cameo pattern.
Trying out mosaic stone colors on the cameo pattern.

Setting aside enough stones for each part of the mosaic.
Setting aside enough stones for each part of the mosaic.
Life intervened and I had to step away from my art and writing for a couple of weeks. I feared I would never go back. I feared that the previous 3-4 months of almost feverish activity with writing and art was a fluke, an accident that would never return. Though I had set myself up in the dining room, a central room in the house, so I’d have to see my half started creation. Last weekend, I returned to it.

I thought I would create more space between the stones than I had previously. I thought I would include a little more detail than I had previously, as I was more comfortable with breaking the stones to my needs.

I start to adhere the stones. I make lips and eyes and an earring.
I start to adhere the stones. I make lips and eyes and an earring.

The stones are adhered. I let it sit overnight.
The stones are adhered. I let it sit overnight.
The next morning, I pondered over the mosaic. I had thought to grout, but the stones are porous. I consider applying the varnish first. I hem and haw. This is uncharacteristic. I’m a hard charger and a quick decision maker. I ask my husband what he thinks. I think about it some more. I walk away and come back. I will varnish first.

The stones after two coats of varnish. This is my favorite picture.
The stones after two coats of varnish. This is my favorite picture of the mosaic (so far). The adhesive dries clear.
As before, I get the grout all wrong. Last time it was too soupy. This time it is too thick. I get hot and bothered and rushed with this unruly and powerful stuff that is grout. It burns my hands a little bit. I am cast down in doubt for about 10 minutes that it takes me to wrestle with it. I go back and forth to the sink to add a little bit more water. My baby wants me to pick her up. She cries. I feel torn and overwhelmed. The grout will dry! My husband helps. He tells me to take my time. I work and work at it, with a popsicle stick, with a too small brush.

The mosaic covered in my too thick grout.
The mosaic covered in my too thick grout.
I decide I can’t do anymore than what I’ve done. I let it sit for 30 minutes. I run upstairs with my son who wants me to find him the little movie camera I’ve been promising him. He wants to make dinosaur movies with his toys. We dig through the last couple of boxes from our move almost 3 years ago. I give him an old pair of sunglasses, the old alarm clock my dad gave me when I went to law school and a little pack of miniature tools from Charles E. Smith. I know he thinks he is grown up now. We couldn’t find the little camera, but this loot is good enough for today.

Now to get that unruly grout off the stones. It is a hard job. I do as much as I can bear after my struggle with the grout. I will have to polish the stones a little bit each day. This is where the love comes in. After days of polishing, I will apply one more coat of varnish. Then perhaps I will hang up my pair of mosaics in my half bath.

The grouted mosaic. Time to polish.
The grouted mosaic. Time to polish.
I’ve decided to inscribe this mosaic on the back as follows: “Mosaic No. 2: “Love each other. Adopt cats. Don’t let the machines take you over.”

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