Painterly Prose

I’ve occasionally been tasked with breathing style into text destined for brochures, emails, and other familiar “corporate communications” work horses. Since I admittedly love words just a bit too much, the greatest challenge focuses on exercising restraint — the careful measuring of words while also adopting the official voice of the company or individual for whom I’m writing.

Since I’m also rather fond of rewarding myself for wisely employing self-discipline, I occasionally make good friends with restriction’s shadow: wild abandon (or my version of it, at any rate). This opens the door to my personal poetic puddlings, simple story telling, and other idiosyncratic writings.


Sample from the past… back in the day, before the spread of digital portfolios:

The artifact of dreams by Mary Alison Petkun (Leatart)

FIRST PERSON SINGULAR || The Sunday Oregonian, November 12, 1995

We all catch up with ourselves sooner or later. I was traveling at the speed of hope when I met myself once again. Going from one job interview to another, holding my aspirations close to my side. They were sealed in acetate, and carefully secured in a modest 11-by-17 portfolio.

I moved quickly through the crowded airports, fording streams of passengers and their luggage. I alleviated the boredom born of long delays by watching my fellow travelers. Eventually, I realized that I too was being watched.

Anonymous pairs of eyes took a first, quick trip over me, barely registering my presence. But after a second, less cursory glance, they discovered something of more than passing interest.

Encountering this phenomenon again and again, I began to understand: like a powerful magnet, my portfolio was holding their gaze. Acting as a beacon of sorts, it was sending out the less than subtle message: Look! She’s an artist! Without so much as a sneak preview of the contents, I had won their attention.

Foolishly, I allowed myself the flattery, willing the transformation of this attention into full-blown admiration. I reveled in the notion that I was the artist they (perhaps) imagined me to be. All this for the modest price of a portfolio.

Of course, it made sense to me. As a child of daydreams, I had loved props. I’d been fascinated by the paraphernalia that signaled “grown up” and on the way. Whether it be the satin slippers of a ballerina, attaché case of a pin-striped attorney, or worn leather pouch of the postman, I was always filled with a kind of occupational wonder.

Mimicking Dumbo with his feather, I believed that the correct accessories could help me to fly toward that distant and nebulous point called accomplishment. Unfortunately, the mystical power of these talismans often overshadowed more practical considerations. In my little world, talent and training took second place to possessing the proper tools of the trade.

That said, I experienced my first aborted flight when I was still quite young. Having been drawn toward the ballet barre by the romance of dance, I soon received the bad news that only hard work would earn me those coveted shoes. Luckily, stubborn determination kicked in, and at the seasoned age of twelve I was ready to take off.

Yet, to my dismay, my pink-ribboned trophies never lifted me as high as I had anticipated — into the role of prima ballerina. Instead, they gave me hideous blisters. Witnessing my pain, my brother, in his infinite first-child wisdom, cheerfully assured me that the doctors would most probably have to amputate. My determination swiftly evaporated, and I hung up my toe shoes.

Through the years my so-called career endured a succession of rough drafts — and, predictably, I accumulated an impressive array of souvenirs. My shelves boasted, among various trophies, a set of shiny French whisks, a cumbersome typewriter, and a collection of art supplies that never failed by their very presence to inspire me. These occupational necessities made me feel purposeful, if not exactly bound for stardom.

Expediency eventually forced me to redirect my energies. I had unexpectedly landed on the planet of motherhood, and my attention was required elsewhere. For once, the focus shifted to a place outside of myself. Which was a fortunate occurrence since a little perspective was precisely what the muses had ordered. Mesmerized by the outer wrappings of achievement, I had missed the whole point. It was high time that I find it.

I believe I did, too. First and most emphatically in my growing children. For, as far as they’re concerned, having something, anything to say is reason enough to do so — loudly, clearly, and joyfully. And with whatever tools happen to be on hand. More pragmatic dreamers than I, they have a firm grasp on what’s essential. Fame and fortune are beside the point.

But I’ve also learned my lesson in some pretty unexpected places. I’ve heard it in the grocery store clerk when he sings his country western tunes to me while ringing up my parcels. This stage will have to do for know, he tells me. He has bills to pay, not recording contracts to sign. It’s Nashville’s loss, he cheerfully agrees.

I’ve read it in a Pennsylvania newspaper clipping about the letter carrier who writes poetry between his rural stops — inspiration is sandwiched in among daily duties. He has bills to pay too, no doubt. But that doesn’t stop the words from coming. Nor, eventually, the title of Poet Laureate.

This, I finally realize, is “art,” pure and simple; the careful weaving of dreams into reality is indeed “success.”

I also now suspect that this is precisely what drew the eyes of those strangers toward my portfolio, They weren’t searching for professional promises, but simply acknowledging the fact that one more person had felt the urge to shake the rafters, metaphorically and otherwise. They were sharing in the delight of throwing caution and soul to the wind — for no other reason than because we must.