Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My own van Gogh list

OK, as promised, here's my first crack at a van Gogh list. I've winnowed it down to 20 people, mostly to keep from trying your patience -- it could have been much longer. This list contains all manner of folk: teachers, writers, actors, artists, comedians, kindred spirits. Some of them you may recognize; others you probably won't. All are, to my way of thinking, amazing in some way -- and sometimes in several ways.

If you feel inclined, you are certainly encouraged to make your own van Gogh list -- but first, a few rules of engagement:

1) No family members. If your folks don't already know how awesome you think they are, quit being a dirtbag and go tell 'em so. (Right now, if necessary. I'll wait.)
2) No dead people. Do your best to make sure the people on your list are still kicking, at least at time of publication; the point of this exercise is to show appreciation for the living.
3) No deities, please. I'm religious myself and have no problems with worship, but that's what prayer is for. This list is for mere mortals.
4) No fictional characters. Even if Frodo Baggins does seem more real to you than your co-workers, he doesn't really care what you have to say about him. Sorry.

That's about all the caveats I can think of... so now, on to

Soozcat's van Gogh List

(in alphabetical order by surname because, hey, blessed rage for order, pale Ramón!)

Ray Bradbury
(photo credit: Alan Light, Creative Commons)
There are many reasons to idolize Ray Bradbury. Of course, there's his fiction -- he is principally a master of the short story, and his Martian tales, Elliott family stories, and idealized youth experiences bound together as Dandelion Wine are like delicious live coals in the brain, glowing with life and full of burning poetry. On a personal note, I'm indebted to Ray Bradbury for revealing that authors actually get paid to write; after this epiphany, which came around age 11, my fate was pretty much sealed. At the time of this writing Mr. Bradbury is coming up on 92 years, but I fully expect him to live forever, just as Mr. Electrico once promised.
ETA: Mr. Bradbury passed away on 5 June 2012, some 4 months after this list was composed.

Wesley B. Carter
(photo credit: Mark Snyder)
Wes is one of my longest-running friends. We met in high school, where we did a lot of walking and talking, hanging out, goofing off, stealing flowers from public places in the middle of the night, swapping books and wondering aloud about various mental mysteries. Wes is talented at nearly everything he sets his mind to doing, whether it's painting, drawing, costuming, ornamental horticulture, gourmet cooking or crochet. He has that mellifluous talent, rare among friends, of being able to pick up more or less where we left off; no matter how long it's been since we last spoke, within five minutes it seems like it's been no time at all. He has not forgotten the dying art of the handwritten letter. In addition to being thoughtful, he's also extremely loyal and forgiving of past injuries, including one that would have destroyed a lesser friendship. (Plus he is secretly Harry Potter.)

Tara Larsen Chang
(photo credit: Tara Larsen Chang)
First and foremost, Tara was a good friend and kindred spirit. Over time I discovered, through the many little handmade gifts and notes she tends to share so generously, that she was also a talented artist and illustrator. She is constantly seeking to improve her talents, has a gift for growing things, a knack for finding the most magical hidden nooks and crannies in a city or town, and (as can be observed in the photo above) shares my enthusiasm for all things steampunk.

Annie Dillard
(photo credit: Phyllis Rose)
If you don't think the essay format can match or beat fiction for intensity, read A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Annie Dillard neatly demonstrates that the power of a specific genre is subservient to an individual author's talent for storytelling. I admire her writing not just for its attention to detail, but for her ability to choose precisely the right detail for the story, and she proves that writing about everyday life observation can be mind-blowing.

Fen Eatough
(photo credit: Mitch Eatough)
I've known Fen longer than I've known my husband; it was, in fact, thanks to Fen's BBS that I met Captain Midnight in the first place. She's a talented writer, a voracious reader, fun-loving, thoughtful, generous of spirit, fond of pointing out the surreal in everyday life, unabashedly passionate about the things she loves, and one of my most loyal friends. My family considers her and her hubby to be extended family (Miss V regularly refers to Mitch as "my favorite uncle"), which almost knocks her off this list thanks to Rule #1.

David Lance Goines
(photo credit: David Lance Goines)
The legitimate successor to Alphonse Mucha, William Morris, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Japanese woodblock printers (not to mention the owner and maintainer of an epic 'stache), David Goines demolishes the notion that there is or should be a definable line between fine art and illustration; his work proves by example that good illustration IS art. If you haven't looked up his poster work yet, best get crackin'.

Joel Grey
(publicity photo; photographer unknown)
Mr. Grey is a tremendously charismatic actor, singer and dancer. Just recently I discovered he's also a skilled photographer. (Next I expect to find out that he speaks fluent Swahili, paints in oils and plays the clarinet. What can this man NOT do?) He has successfully pulled off a wide range of characterizations from charming to chilling -- sometimes both charming and chilling at once. In my opinion, tragically underutilized by Hollywood since his creepily unforgettable performance in Cabaret won him an Oscar.

Jeffrey R. Holland
(photo credit:
You probably won't know who this man is unless you happen to be a Mormon, but he deserves wider renown for his thoughtful writing, subtle humor and well-spoken commentary on religious topics. When he appears during LDS General Conference or as a speaker in other meetings, I tend to cheer aloud; his particular thought processes and his felicitous method of expressing them are second to none. Plus he and his wife Patricia used to put on a great set of tag-team talks known as "The Pat and Jeff Show" back when he was president of BYU.

James Lileks
(photo credit: unknown)
In top form, Mr. Lileks is hi-frickin'-larious; he has a gift for zeroing in on the odd, the random and the inexplicable in 20th century American pop culture and merrily toasting it from orbit. His weekday blog, The Bleat (which he denigrates as "dashed-off tripe"), is filled with nuggets of pop-culture trivia that infomaniacs like me eat up with a spoon, and his writing runs the gamut from hysterical to remarkably touching. Why this man isn't nationally known, when humorists far less funny than he have achieved household recognition, is frankly a modern mystery.

Carrie Ormsby
(photo credit: Carrie Ormsby)
Carrie and I met in college, before she started dating her Mr. Wonderful. We quickly discovered we were kindred spirits. Carrie shares a love for good movies and good books, is a fantastic cook, has a beautiful singing voice, and has the generosity of spirit to share her gifts with others. In the past few years she has returned to school and is preparing to astound the world as a speech language pathologist. Like Fen, she also runs the ragged edge of being disqualified from the van Gogh list thanks to Rule #1, since Captain Midnight and I were deemed worthy to be adopted into the Ormsby family many years ago.

Gretel Parker
(photo credit: Andy Macauley)
This blog is titled "Confessions of a Laundry Faerie" because I needed a public blog to join the Society of Secret Fairies, a short-lived but wonderful experiment in mysterious gift-giving, back in 2006. One of my first SOSF parcel exchanges was with Gretel, an English artist living in the Cotswolds. In addition to her evocative, melancholy paintings of well-loved and forgotten toys, Gretel creates beautiful paper-cut cards and limited-edition prints, takes wonderful photos of her neck of the woods, and maintains a couple of great slice-of-life blogs. She's also become known for her handmade needle-felted toys, one of which appears in the photo above. Gretel kindly encouraged this blog when it was new. We got to chatting back and forth in email, and when Captain Midnight and I finally went to England we took a day trip to visit her and Andy. It was easily the highlight of our stay. I'm so pleased to have discovered her work, and I'm proud to call her a friend.

J.K. Rowling
(photo credit: Steven J. Hill, Creative Commons)
Do you really need me to explain why I think this woman is amazing? Have you been living in a cave since 1997?

Jenny Ruhl
(photo credit: Jenny Ruhl)
We don't know each other, but this woman has quite possibly saved my life.
Diabetes is our family curse. Complications from type 2 diabetes killed my maternal aunt at age 53, and have done serious damage to my mother's health. Last year the disease finally caught up to me. Days after I was diagnosed, I discovered Ms. Ruhl's website, Blood Sugar 101: What They Don't Tell You About Diabetes. Her analysis of numerous diabetic research studies, ability to point out the difference between studies with good and bad methodology, and patient work accreting the experiences of hundreds of diabetics online have helped many people stay as healthy as possible with a chronic, incurable disease. (After reading the site, and on the advice of my doctor, I took a diabetic nutrition class; when the nurse handed out bad information about "healthy" blood sugar numbers, I immediately called her on it. To her credit, she admitted I was correct.) Thanks wholly to Ms. Ruhl's advice about eating to one's blood monitor, I've kept my A1Cs in non-diabetic ranges since shortly after I was diagnosed. If you are diabetic, go ye and do likewise.

Michael Rutter
(photo credit: Michael Rutter)
I tend to quote randomly from poems (including Wallace Stevens' "The Idea of Order at Key West") thanks to Mr. Rutter, the creative writing teacher at Provo High School -- though his class really should have been titled Poetry Appreciation. He had a reputation among the students for being crazily intense, so that on my first day of class I was a little cowed by him -- but that passed. Through example he fostered a love for T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats and Wallace Stevens, a greater appreciation for Emily Dickinson, and he thoroughly cemented in our heads the notion that you must divorce your writing from your ego if you ever want to rise above mediocrity as a writer. And during a time when I needed encouragement in most areas of life, he told me he believed I had a future career in writing. Thanks, Rutter.

Jon Schmidt
(photo credit: The Piano Guys)
As I've written before, there are many piano performers -- but this man is the only one I know of who truly plays the piano. I can't say that he makes it look easy; rather, his obvious enthusiasm makes the effort required to play at this level look worth it. (The image above is a still taken from a video where he's in the middle of performing a piece; that is the face of a man doing what he was born to do.) He and his cello-playing cohort Steven Sharp Nelson, along with the other members of The Piano Guys, are doing some amazing things on YouTube these days -- not least among which is proving the concept that an independent musician can make a decent living online without signing away distribution rights to his own work. You should go there. You should go there NOW.

Ms. Shore
(photo credit: school district photographer)
I wish I could give you more information about Ms. Shore, second grade teacher at El Monte Elementary in Concord, California circa 1976. She was the right teacher at the right time, probably for many of her students, but especially for me. I was a precocious, awkward six-year-old who had learned to read before I entered kindergarten and my teachers didn't really know what to do with me; during reading time, they usually punted me to the library, where I discovered plenty of great books but wasn't learning the social skills I so desperately needed. Ms. Shore, by contrast, took advantage of my early-reader status by getting me to peer-tutor other kids, excusing me from class to read aloud to the kindergartners ("...but Drummer Hoff fired it off!"), introducing me to the Chronicles of Narnia and encouraging me to write. I remember few specifics of the things I was taught in second grade, but I will always remember and appreciate the teacher who cared about me as a person and wanted me to succeed. Sadly, she's the only person on this list I haven't been able to find online; I imagine her surname has probably changed since the Bicentennial.

Linda Stuurman
(photo credit: unknown tourists)
You know Linda pretty much had to be on the van Gogh list, as she is Dutch by birth. (And as we know, you ain't much if you ain't Dutch.) I've only known Linda a few years, but in that time I've been continually impressed by her application of talent, her zest for challenges and her incredible drive to succeed. Linda can do hard things, and do them well. She has managed to keep more balls in the air than I would have thought possible, running a major fansite, holding down a job and earning a second bachelor's degree on a highly compressed schedule all at once. She's also an ardent cyclist who will some day move to San Francisco to ride her bike all up and down its hills. I'm convinced she can do pretty much anything she sets her mind to doing.

Mack Wilberg
(photo credit: Pete Wright, Creative Commons)
If you've heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform any time in the last few years, you've witnessed the handiwork of Mack Wilberg. His original compositions, inspiring arrangements of familiar hymns and songs, and powerful direction make the Choir what it is today. I've been a fan of his work since the late 1980s, when I used to sit way in the back of the class and listen to the BYU Men's Chorus practice, and he just keeps getting better. Plus, he seems to be on a one-man crusade to ensure that "Come, Thou Fount of Ev'ry Blessing" makes it back into the LDS Hymnal, based on his joyous arrangement (and the Choir's frequent performance) of this hymn.

Robin Williams
(publicity photo; photographer unknown)
Yeah, I've written about him before. If you think he only does wacky comedy, go see One Hour Photo. You will be thoroughly creeped out, yet unable to look away (and left wondering why this movie didn't get at least an Oscar nomination).
ETA: Robin Williams passed away August 11, 2014.

James L. Wright, Jr.
(photo credit: Marie Case Wright)
Jim is a man of many abilities, not the least of which is something I could never do in a million years: stand-up comedy. He's successfully done family-friendly routines before a clean and sober crowd -- one of the hardest groups to please in comedy -- and made them laugh. If anything he's even funnier in person, with a wit that tends to manifest unexpectedly and send everyone into paroxysms of involuntary beverage snorting. His appreciation for Korean cuisine made me curious to try the food he once described as "not user friendly" (but soooooo gooooood, omnomnom). He's also a talented author, and I wish he had more time and inclination to write short stories; the reading public is missing out. And, of course, he's a good friend.

[IMAGE COPYRIGHT NOTE: Before posting this list, I made a good faith effort to obtain permission to use all photos strictly for illustrative purposes, or have used Creative Commons-licensed images; if you would like to create and illustrate your own van Gogh list, please do the right thing and get appropriate permission to use any copyrighted images. Also, I have no desire to violate anyone else's copyright -- so if I've inadvertently used your copyrighted photo above and you would like to be credited for it, or if you'd prefer to have it removed, please let me know.]


MarieC said...

LOVE LOVE LOVE this list! Truly fabulous (as are you).

Scarehaircare said...

Darn tootin' you are adopted into the fam. Even The Love Magnet refers to you as Auntie Sooz. loveyarightback BFF o' BYU

Linda said...

Thanks! I feel honored and humbled. :)

Fatherly Uncle Jim said...

I shoulda known something was up when you asked for a recent photo. All I can say is, wow, thank you!

BTW, Lileks is one of the regular hosts of the Ricochet podcast (iTunes or And you're right - the man is a treasure house of wit; I could listen to him for hours extolling (or cursing) the weather in Minnesota.