Submitted by Don Doman
I hated the book. I was tired and didn’t want to attend my book group. I had only read part of the book, but reading the entire book is never a requirement for being in our group. I went for two reasons. I like the people and hearing their remarks. But mostly the reason for going this time was because the discussion was at George’s home.
George Madsen and his wife are both artists and the last time he hosted I just couldn’t attend. When I was a young college student at the University of Puget Sound, I was a fine arts major with a focus on drawing and painting. I still love seeing fellow artists’ studios and looking at their work: some finished, some partially done, and some only partially started. It’s a chance to see creativity at work.
My wife Peg is a calligrapher. Her studio is “verboten,” but her works hang in several of our rooms at home. She goes to retreats and returns with ideas, with works, and photographs of other artists’ work.
George had an accident about a year and a half ago and hasn’t fully recovered, yet. He still can’t drive, and hadn’t been to our meetings for some time. This was an opportunity. His studio had oil pastels on several counters, and one wall had cow and goat skulls hanging. On one surface there was what looked like a large active sketch book, and on another counter a pile approximately two inches high of finished sketches in charcoal, watercolor and various combinations.
I poured over the sketches before returning to the kitchen table for pizza, cashews, crackers and various cheeses. Normally, the host provides food and wine (or beer/pop). George had a large section of a kitchen counter filled with bottles of booze. What else would you expect from an artist? For years George was part of the art movement in Seattle and painted under the name of Dr. Johnny Wow. George grew up in Alaska.
It turned out that George had chosen the book for discussion: The Emigrants by W.S. Sebald. The book was about four Germans . . . each with their own section. I read the first one. At the end the of that section the main character killed himself. I began the second section, which starts off with the new character killing himself. I could hardly wait for George’s reason for suggesting this book. He had seen a description of the author and the book, which seemed to be about tortured and lost souls and George identified with that and then he launched into a story about a room he rented from an Arab when he went to college. He was looking for the cheapest room he could find. His room was under the eaves on the third floor. He could cook whatever he wanted, but no pork. George described his host, and the other renters who gambled their nights away betting with match sticks, reciting long poems in Arabic, and fantasizing about dating blond women.
Most of the discussion we had was about Ken Burn’s new mini-series on Vietnam. Our age group readers were very familiar with the sixties. Very familiar. However, we also talked about health care, and books.
As we began to pick up and leave I asked if any of the sketches might be for sale. George said, “If you see something you want, just take it.” He was talking to a room empty of Don. I disappeared into the studio. There were three images that spoke to me . . . called to me . . . and sang to me. I checked with George once more and thanked him. What a wonderful evening. I was riding with two friends. On the way out we had talked about the book. Returning home we talked about my new sketches/portraits, our wives, the book discussion, health care . . . and art. I scored big. I knew Peg would love the images I came home with. She did.