before the show begins

Photo by Liz O’Keefe

Typical—I arrive early to avoid lines of people. And typical of  people who live here, I might not attend something that could involve a line.  So even knowing there will be no line, I show up early for the art film showing at 7:30. And no one is here except a ticket taker who doesn’t ask to see my ticket.

He shrugs: No one comes without a ticket.

I nod. He nods. We smile at each other. It’s so quiet in the museum I think about telling him I can hear our smiles echo. But yeah, that’d be lame.

Outside in the parking lot lit by one weak street light, Derby is parked with his back against the wind, facing a row of nine Douglas fir trees that line the museum’s north wall. In case there is a white-out when the show is over, I’ll be able to find my vehicle because I’ve made a note to remember I parked next to the second tree. After all these years living in town, my imagination runs as if I still live on the prairie. On a homestead, with a rope tied between the barn and my cabin. In 1863. The snow is falling, the temperatures are dropping and I’m glad I thought to prop the wiper-blades in the air so they’d not freeze to the windshield.

Instead of heading to the main galleries, I step inside the Children’s Art Gallery. Mostly because I like the space: low ceilings, thick walls, wooden floors that creak. This used to be the County Jail and so a few bars and heavy locks remain to lend flavor to the artwork hanging on the walls.  I like to walk around and listen to the floorboards, imagine the sound of a jail cell. Opening. Closing. Opening. Footsteps that are not mine.

Last time I was in this gallery the artwork was of barnyard animals. This time, first-graders had been asked to draw Diversity. Each six-year old artist had been asked to tell their teacher what the term meant. One student explained:  Diversity means learning new things.  One little boy explained it meant to use every shape he could think of: Circles, Boxes, and Forks. 

See, it’s good to show up early.


About redmitten

author of Cracking Geodes Open, Making Good Use of August, and The Peppermint Bottle. poetry editor for IthacaLit. website:

14 responses to “before the show begins

  1. your words about winter and snow bring back memories of growing up in minnesota – cords from car block heaters through the transom of the motel room door, bricks on accelerator pedals, and turbid clouds of gray hovering over parking lots in 25 below as folks left their cars running while they ate breakfast…..(gas was not 3.19 a gallon)

    but a rope from the barn to the cabin to find one’s way in a whiteout? that’s real survival stuff.

    in a way, the kid is right – diversity is circles, boxes…..and forks

    • redmitten

      oh gosh yes- bricks on the gas pedals (and later: carboned up exhaust systems). your post brings back memories (the real ones…heh). the rope to the barn was real in my grandmother’s day and when i was a kid i’d get that mixed up a bit and think rope had founding properties. if i walked around with a rope tied around my waist, i’d always be found, ya know?

      i wanted to take photos of the kids’ artwork- each piece was fabulous and i couldn’t believe these kids were so young. but then i was reminded of something i read in the book, the element: we all start out knowing we are aritsts and only as we get older does the world convince us we are not.

  2. What film were you there to see, Sherry? (I always ask the dumbest questions.) Apropos feed stores, no stories. That was thirty years ago. Somewhere in my old b&w negatives I have photos of the hundred-weight feed bags, stacked on pallets four or five high, their sagging edges rhyming one atop the other. And the old board floor, worn shiny near the counter, scuffed and scarred by the loading dock. Same as everywhere.

    • redmitten

      tim- you ask the questions that begat more talk. i like that!

      replikaaa is a short art film which draws attention to the illegal trafficking in dna, biomedicines, art, etc. lise swenson, had flown in 90 minutes before showtime from san francisco. unfortunately she thought the museum had a copy of the film and the museum thought she was bringing a copy. it made for an extra wonderful evening as we all worked through plan b and plan c and plan d before the movie actually arrived via an email link, a laptop and a borrowed cable. the film was produced/directed by dr tayeb al-hafez, a syrian doctor now living and working in a small town in eastern montana. lise was on her way to living in this town for a year in order to both work with tayeb on another project and then to spend a year working on a new project regarding teenage suicide in eastern montana. she is best known for her feature-length film, Mission. art film and documentaries are not easy to come by here, so the 20 of us who came to watch her film were grateful for what she went through to bring the film to us. somewhere in my head, i am writing the post that will finish sharing the plan d evening that resulted, but email me if you’d like to hear more. it was a crazy evening, in that good crazy way. lise is a warm energy-field and i hope to go see her in the upcoming year while she is working on this project.

      would love to see those photos you have. this was so lovely: “. . . their sagging edges rhyming one atop the other.”

      • Lise Swenson’s film and the project it describes sound most interesting. Have I told you about my small nonprofit organization, the Center for Documentary Arts? I started it a couple years ago to use art to raise awareness of humanitarian issues and inspire compassion. Posts about past activities and essays by himself at the blog (which doubles as an ersatz website): Not sure how to make that a live link in comments box.

      • redmitten

        tim- inspiring, truly. compassion rises when we feel it rather than when we are advised about it. using art to raise awareness is the ticket (so to speak!)…i’ll be spending more time at your site.

        swenson has an email list to keep those interested advised of this latest project. meeting her was inspiring because she is using art to do the very thing your nonprofit is doing. if you are interested in connecting with this project, i have more info. ( redmittengirl (at) yahoo (dot) com )

        one of the most stirring books i’ve read that addresses depression in eastern montana is Counting Coup. it came out a few years ago and quietly shares its true story in a flat, documentary-style narrative. i don’t know what the answer is to suicides/depression in this area, but work like this does much to promote a deeper understanding and compassion.

        now i am off to read more of “himself” 🙂

  3. I ask the same question: about the film. And I appreciate the forks.

    • redmitten

      i knew you’d tune to those forks (ok, yes had to say that, didn’t i . . .) in tim’s post i wrote more about the film. the world of film is new to me and i am starved-for-film rookie.

  4. You know what they say about early birds!!!

  5. John

    “This used to be the County Jail and so a few bars and heavy locks remain to lend flavor to the artwork hanging on the walls. I like to walk around and listen to the floorboards, imagine the sound of a jail cell. Opening. Closing. Opening.”

    Really? You like to imagine the sounds of a jail cell? Creepy 🙂

    Love “In 1863.”

    • redmitten

      john- yeah, i don’t know why that is. i’m thinking more that every lock opens. and …uh…ever go through a spell of feeling scattered? the idea of being forced to sit down, sit still and let something come to you appeals to me. what better than a locked cell, then? by the way, this is the second time in 24 hours something i’ve said has been described as creepy. hmmmm?!

  6. Rose Hunter

    Ah, echoing smiles, hmm….. 🙂 …

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