originally published January 3, 2006.

It was a stressful enterprise, completing Glenda’s portrait. I could not find the Zen moment… when the images fall together on their own. There was too much confusion, lack of focus, going on in Glenda’s life. It seemed to follow a wave and then crash, again and again. So, after having something nearly done, but unhappy with the results, I scrapped it and started again, though not from the beginning. This time I saw the path… a rough one full of lots of hills and valleys, illusions, and underlying disappointments. Glenda survival methods seem to revolve around short term goals that fulfill some kind of illusion (or is it delusion?) of what she feels is necessary for success. She needs to feel needed, to feel wanted, to – at times – be at the center of the spotlight. While there are probably still some minor adjustments to be made on Glenda’s portrait (highlights/lowlights/shadows), I feel I’ve taken it as far as I can for the time being.

Part of the challenge with Glenda is history… there is very little of it. She did not lay a framework from which I could cultivate an identity. Maybe this is on purpose. Her past that she did describe appeared to be full of violence and fear and maybe was an outgrowth of her childhood. She did not say. Her scrapbook went only so far in describing her past, as well. She went as far as Doorstep, and various living quarters, the grocery store where she did her phantom shopping, McDonalds where she and Bumpy ate each morning, etc. These were meaningful, but still fairly superficial in their insights. So, also, were the lists she seemed to continuously write. Juxtaposed with the advertisements in her scrapbooks, it began to create a portrait of someone whose pain is deep but who chooses to live life in a blissful state of expectation, planning, working, falling down and then recovering. Her favorite song.. sung once for me during our interview and then again at Dona’s poetry reading … is “When you walk through a storm…” and probably provides more of an insight into Glenda’s emotional psyche than anything else I could find, especially if juxtaposed against the series of events she shared during our interview.

And so the masks of Glenda remained, with only a few glimmers here and there, between the waves of traumas in her life. The portrait became a fairly dark scene, using a sunset image from Glenda’s scrapbook and the framework of places she’s lived and paths she’d like to take. There are waves there, too, of people and things in Glenda’s life, and Glenda herself. The waves get larger and larger. The portrait is framed by two young girls. On the left is a small girl, probably Glenda’s niece, but very sweet and innocent looking, representing the inner child that seems to be Glenda. On the right is the teenager and Glenda’s daughter, Bumpy, who looks at the camera as she holds a phone to her ear, as if asserting her independence with annoyance. This represents a fearful Glenda, one who fears being alone when she is left behind by her maturing daughter. Barely visible the brighter part of the background is her older daughter at her wedding, a daughter who remains a ghostly reminder of the choices made in Glenda’s past.

The waves also hold at their center various stages in Glenda’s life and her personal vision of herself. In the smallest wave, there is only Glenda as she stands in the parking lot of Doorstep Shelter. A grocery cart and McDonalds are barely visible textures in the background. The second overlapping wave is her quilt square she created during a session arranged through Wayne State with the name shingle highlighted. This is the “dream” or, in some ways, fantasy, that Glenda wishes for… It overlaps the Food Basics store where she would perform her ritual of phantom shopping, filling and then emptying her grocery cart. But otherwise, this second wave holds darkness through which the lighter waves of family roll through.

The third wave, the second largest, nearly as big as the last one, surrounds a black angel that I photographed in Glenda’s apartment. It was blurry in the original photo and I left it that way, despite having sharper versions of this image. She is framed in a Corelleware plate from Glenda’s scrapbook and sits upon a path from another advertisement in the scrapbook. This wave represents the personal visions for Glenda, the masks she’d like to wear, the goals of both spiritual and material success she’d like to achieve. But beside and below the angel, we see an unhappy Glenda. She is smiling in nearly all of the photos I obtained. But in this one image we see an unhappy Glenda taken during the quilting session. Maybe she is pondering the obstacles before her in reaching her dream of the house she described in the quilt square.

But in the fourth wave, we have Glenda again, this time peering through the framed images of her family and daughter’s recent graduation. She is not at the forefront but seeks to be seen. She is proud of her daughter’s accomplishments, and her own for having raised her to this success. But there is uncertainty. For Monday she is evicted. Her daughter seeks to be on her own… Another wave to prepare for…

At the base is a series of bibles that sat on the tables of her living room, on display, and within easy reach for escape when the pressures are too much. But etched into the background of the sky are a series of writings that became almost mantras for Glenda. A prayer, a resolution, a wishlist, a promise…

Here is the “finished” version of Glenda’s portrait:


Glenda’s finished portrait

Tuesday, January 3, 2006
Mara Jevera Fulmer