Oh Summer. The long days, lightening bugs flickering deep into the blue evenings. Sound of kids playing tag while hamburgers flame up over hot coals. Poolside, seaside, backyard, it doesn't matter, the world is just a little more relaxed and fun in the summertime.
I look forward to fall and all that comes with it, but I get a little maudlin when I first notice the shift in light that signals the coming of autumn. Right now the trees are just beginning to lose their green and I'm not sure whether to be happy or sad.
My favorite summers were when my kids were small and I got to relive those childhood summers with them. White hot days at the pool with popsicles and goggles that stretch into pillow fort movie nights when tired little bodies fall asleep before the credits roll.
Schedules, school, appointments, growing up - can we wait awhile longer? I'm not quite done with summertime just yet.
The Way to Rainy Mountain- by Scott Momaday
A single knoll rises out of the plain in Oklahoma, north and west of the Wichita Range. For my people, the Kiowas, it is an old landmark, and they gave it the name Rainy Mountain. The hardest weather in the world is there. Winter brings blizzards, hot tornadic winds arise in the spring, and in the summer the prairie is an anvil's edge. The grass turns brittle and brown, and it cracks beneath your feet. There are green belts along the river and creeks, liear groves of hickory and pecan, willow and witch hazel. At a distance in July or August the steaming foliage seems almost to writhe in fire. Great green and yellow grasshoppers are everywhere in the tall grass, popping up like corn to sting the flesh, and tortoises crawl about on the red earth, going nowhere in the plenty of time. Loneliness is an aspect of the man. To look upon that landscape in the morning, with the sun at your back, is to lose the sense of proportion. Your imagination comes to life, and this, you think, is where Creation was begun.
I've been thinking about getting a boat lately. Nothing fancy, just a little sailboat I could take out on a nice, breezy day or a moonlit evening. I grew up sailing with my family, my dad a lover of sailing, his Norweigan blood always drawing him to the water.
When you grow up sailing, you have to learn the terms, and some are more important than others. One of the sailing calls you learn to perk up your ears for is " We are coming about!" also known as "tacking".
This means if you are in the stern of the sailboat, you need to duck, fast, because the boom is about the swing from one side of the boat to the other so that the wind hits the sails from the opposite direction. This is a loud maneuver in a good sized boat, with quick movements, lots of ropes humming out and being reeled in hard , sails flapping, boom swinging. Right before the wind fills the sails again, the boat feels wrong, sometimes violent waves slamming it because of the wind hitting it at an awkward angle and everything being adjusted for the new course. I was always relieved when things quieted back down and we found ourselves underway again. . First timers on a sailboat, not heeding the call to duck, will find themselves taking a dunk in the lake when the boom comes slamming full steam across the boat.
My experience the past 15 years or so have not been a nice, smooth sail- divorce, blending a family, being diagnosed with breast cancer, being a member of the "sandwich generation", and a few challenging odds and ends thrown in for the fun of it- I have found myself trying to "come about" many times, trying to react, to shift direction when I need to without being knocked off the boat. Tightening my sails back up, and finding a new course, or at least a modified one.
I'm still working on it, but having practice makes you better at paying attention to where the wind is coming from while holding steady. I've found that the wind is more forgiving when I am able to allow some give in my sails and not try to control everything at once. Sometimes you've got to allow those big waves to slam into you while waiting for the wind to fill your sails. The important part is to remember that the wind is your friend. To work with it, not against it.
What I know for sure is that when we let go and instead of fearing change, embrace it and adjust our sails, we will find our way to gentle winds and a steady course again.
Painting helps me make sense of my life. It allows me to process things I'm not even aware of feeling. Sometimes I have no idea why I'm painting something until I'm finished and it speaks to me. This one wouldn't let me go until I wrote about it.
Thank you for reading it.
"Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful: for beauty is God's handwriting- a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing." Ralph Waldo Emerson
I went out of town this week without my charger and my phone died, so I was without my phone (gasp) for a total of about 6 hours. Which brings a snowballing of worry- almost panic; what if someone is trying to reach me? How will I keep track of my teenagers? I need to text that person about our appointment! What's my bank balance? Is it going to rain??What time is it? A cacophony in my head of all the things I am incapable of doing without this little rectangle of light I carry around at all times.
It took me a few minutes to calm down and remind myself that I did life without a phone for about 30 of my 48 years. And life, was fine, actually.
I began thinking of the differences in how we live today. How we automatically do so many things all at once because we have immediate access to so many things. Which brings to mind all that we miss because we are mesmerized by all there is to - read, like, contact, schedule, argue, brag, plan, etc.- right at our fingertips.
What happened? Are we in one simultaneous trance that we cannot extricate ourselves from? Somedays when I see friends arguing about the latest thing that there is to argue about, or the Kardashians are glaring at me from the headlines, I wonder.
There are so many moments that happen without announcement around us every moment of every day . Subtle, important things, like time to be bored enough to think or reflect without distraction and to demonstrate to our children what that looks like.
Who knows what thoughts and small interactions we are missing out on because we distract ourselves constantly? The momentary, fleeting beauty that will pass without our knowing because we were - what? What are we doing? Most likely nothing of consequence.
So this week, I am challenging myself and you to leave the phones out of reach more often, have faith that the world won't end , and start seeing the beauty of those things that don't call out for our attention, but are there waiting to be found, nonetheless.
Let me know how it goes and what wayside sacrament you discover.
…….And a time to every purpose under heaven.
My last blog post was January 17th, 2019 , approximately 6 months ago. Unfortunately, I have also barely touched my paintbrush in that time. Aside from a couple of commissions, which were godsends and made me get out to my studio, it's been a pretty long dormant season for this painter. In January, my mom moved in with us. She has dementia, so I'll just say the ensuing months were a big menagerie of conundrum, laughter, grief, patience, love and grace.
All you "sandwich" generation friends- which is in reality more like a panini press- you get me. It's finding the space in your soul and the freedom in your spirit to not numb out and just go through the motions, let alone create, that is most difficult when confronted with a loved one slowly being taken from you with Alzheimer's/ dementia.
For me, my mom has always been a beautiful friend and creative energy force in my life. I miss her "Barb-ness"- anyone who knows her understands that term- and on good days, I see a glimpse of it. Mom is in an assisted living place now and doing pretty well, better than what I could do for her, and our time together is less stressful now that she has a structure to her day. My family has been understanding, loving and patient during this time and for that I am so thankful . I feel a great load lifted, as well as guilt for feeling that way, but things are coming back into balance.
I'll tell you one piece of advice that guided me on this strange path; one of my "31 in 31" artist friends told me to think of myself as a tree during this time when I basically said, " I'm dried up". She told me to take the time to be still, and allow all the beauty I saw around me to feed my soul and my creativity, and to be patient with myself. The tree doesn't hurry, doesn't question it's dormancy, or the new growth to come. It trusts it's roots and knows instinctively that the dormant season naturally ends when the time comes.
The roots my mom gave me and I depended on always being available are also going dormant.. But they run deep, and I am finding they continue to feed me even as I let her go little by little. I am forever grateful and indebted to her for the depth and strength of those beautiful roots.
Here's to a new season of growth, for all of us.
"Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. "
I'm in the middle of another 31 paintings in 31 days, and so far it has been starts and stops, craziness and catching up. But, As with every one of these I participate in, I learn so much about myself and my art by being a part of it and sharing with other artists involved.
Today I was confronted with the possibility that I am slightly schizophrenic when it comes to my art a lot of the time. I want to do ALL THE THINGS. So as I sit and decide what to paint, I get a bit paralyzed. Will I paint portraits today? Or trees, flowers, landscapes, abstractions, or, ooh! merge verse and painting? And on and on my mind meanders.
This is not a productive way to do the 31 in 31. This is a build up of not painting every day. Of not taking the time to put on paper what is in my head and heart each day . When the daily painting challenge comes up, I've got so much to do I have trouble getting any of it out.
Processing my feelings, emotions, and ideas through my painting is what brings my spirit to my art. It is not a want to, it is a need I have that when neglected, makes me frustrated, stressed, and not true to myself.
So this morning I decided I would bypass my artist's mind and it's greedy appetite to be filled with new inspiration and emotion to be able to paint, with a more measured approach. Forcing myself to paint the same subject for at least 3 days. I am not making myself meet a quota, I am not painting large. I am just painting, without veering, with honesty and dedication, variations of the same thing for a limited time. I am hoping with discipline and focus to do a better job of honoring my painting and myself.
So, today, tomorrow, and the following day will be trees. I'll post them.
One.. Two.. Three, GO-
The past few months I was fortunate to work as a substitute teacher for special education in a local elementary school. I dove in this fall not knowing what to expect, and by Christmas, I can honestly say it had greatly affected the way I view the world around me. Since what affects me affects my art in various ways, I thought I would share with you my experiences of the past few months.
For different reasons, I am not able to continue this job, So as I move into this new phase of life, I will remember the lessons I learned accompanying these incredible little human beings for the past 4 months of school.
1. For the majority of my time, I helped children with severe autism and Down's syndrome who do not fit neatly into our "average" world. A world that does not take the time to recognize and appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of these children. Their worlds are much more beautiful in so many ways. We could learn much from watching how they are completely immersed in every moment. How the joy and love they experience are powerful and pure- in their eyes, their smiles, and their hugs.
2. Children are naturally ready and able to connect with those different from them, and do. Even in the most severe cases, where verbal ability is limited, or behavior is a barrier, 5 year old children innately understand how to reach out and be a friend and are not afraid of differences. They try to connect- with great success and against all odds. Children, unlike adults, do not look away or avoid eye contact. They look, and like the little artists they are, they see what is there, and seek to connect with the essence.
3. Slowing down and paying attention to what is needed in that very moment is the key to everything. These "special" kids taught me that lesson. My idea of what should be happening is irrelevant if I'm not paying attention to the emotions of the child, the dynamics of their relationships, or the power of their basic needs. How true this is not just for the special population, but for all of our interactions and understanding of those around us.
4. The teachers that dedicate their lives to special education are incredible human beings. They are patient, dedicated, disciplined, improvisational, and holistic in their approach to the child. They have much on their plate and they do it all with grace.
5. I have a new respect and admiration for parents of children in the special population. Along with the beauty and love is so much worry and heartbreak. This world is not readily accepting of different. These parents are caretakers, advocates, researchers, protectors and everything else other parents are, times one hundred!
I was honored the past few months to witness the magic that happens when a child first understands how to connect to their world or express themselves in a new way. The pure beauty of a unique little soul unfolding in it's own way and own time is miraculous.
There is a thread that runs through loving, parenting, creating, and teaching. It is improvisation and fluidity which engages the souls involved and expands them. It is beauty and life in action. Differences welcomed.
"Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art." - Leonardo DaVinci
I have been delving into a little ink brushwork on rice paper to loosen up for my 31 days of painting, and in doing so, working on some Sumi-e brushstrokes. I have gone back to this practice before, having been taught many years ago by a dear friend friend from Japan. Sumi-e is meditative in process, and although the technique is important, it is the slowing down to feel the pressure of the brush on the paper, the sensitivity between eye and hand, that truly matters. In this way, the art becomes more mindful, the editing more thorough. What comes through is the essence of the thing you are drawing. Which is, at the end of the day, what good art is all about.
Happy New year's!
My entry into the new year comes with lots of anticipation and planning, and also some trepidation, because the older I get, the more I understand that I have very few answers to life when it comes right down to it. I'm thankful to a God I can depend on to be there and help me through whatever comes. I'm grateful to have another year to look forward to, and for the opportunity every moment brings for growth and love. And I'm so very thankful for my family and friends and for their presence in and influence on my life.
More and more, I appreciate my artist friends. People who inspire and motivate me to lean in to my creativity and continue my growth as an artist and human being. Thank you!
So as I embark again on January's 31 paintings in 31 days, I look forward to new growth, new possibilities, and being flooded with new ideas, connection, and inspiration from people dedicated to practicing the creative process . I'm a lucky girl.
Here's a drawing to start 2019 - letting go of the old and anticipating the new!
I'm reading the book "Free play" by Nachmanovich again this autumn. I read it first in college about 1992 and it profoundly affected the way I thought about teaching art and doing my own. It's premise is that the act of creating is, in fact, the act of "playing". It is allowing the ego to back off and coming into the moment fully. Begin absorbed and involved with the imagination to the point of not knowing what time it is or how hungry you are.
Do you remember being able to cross the line into an imaginary world? Creating anything out of anything, just because you could?
It is not something we practice as adults. Play is squeezed out of us as we go to school, , join organized sports, as our time is filled with specific "slots" in which to complete our tasks for the day. As we lose the freedom of time, we lose our natural inclination to play and create.
It is a worthwhile practice to try to get back to that place, even taking small steps. Taking time to get back to that childlike wonder where we get in touch with imagination and creativity, leading us to recognize that little kid we left behind somewhere along the way.
How do you enter into that realm of play as an adult?