The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #8

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List the things you like to do that don’t involve technology:

  • I like to read. I always have. When I was six, my mother crawled under the kitchen table  where I was having a sobbing fit because the words I was reading did not make any sense. She looked at what was going on, and with a smile – and a level of patience she was not always known for – explained to me that K-N-E-W was pronounced “NOO,” not – which was the source of my frustration – “CANOE.” It was common, over breakfast, for me say, “Please pass the Corn Flakes,” simply because I had already read everything the Rice Krispies box had to offer. I still like to read the cereal box, when I have cereal. Books were not allowed at other meals when I was a child, but I often rushed through dinner and dishes to get back to a good book. Now that I’m an adult – and often dine alone – books and magazines are grand accompaniment at the dining room table. I always think of books as miracle-workers. From a very young age, they gave me an idea of how other families behaved and how the world worked. I have looked to books to learn a skill, make a repair, or solve a problem. They have given me vast insight into other places and other people, imaginary and real. Books have given me hope when I saw no hope.
  • I like to walk. I’ve become very familiar with the changing scenery down the Fox Lake Road through all seasons of the year. Still, there’s always something fresh about it. A change in the color of the sky, the brightness of the sun or its position overhead makes the whole view brand new. Sometimes I choose a heart-pumping pace; other times I meander. There are days when my mind is full of problems that I am trying to solve. Sometimes, the purpose of the walk is to get away from them. And, sometimes I sing, loud and off-key, for the distance.
  • I like games: board games, card games; word games; dominoes; dice. Solitaire is okay, if there’s no one else around.
  • I like working in the soil. Gardening offers many benefits – that I also enjoy – but in the early spring, when the ground is just warming up, long before the promise of flowers or vegetables, I am out there, on my knees with my hands in the dirt. And I am enjoying myself!
  • I like exercise…a little. And that’s how much time I devote to it.
  • I like to cook.
  • I like crafts. Crochet, mostly, but I’ve enjoyed knitting, sewing, and embroidery, too.
  • I like art. I like the “doing” often as much as the “making” in that often the act of pushing paint around the surface, or shaping clay is every bit as meaningful to me as the product that may come of it.
  • I like writing. Though I use the computer for most of the writing I do these days, I have several volumes of sappy, melodramatic and angst-y journals that I wrote by hand through most of my adult life. And, if the hours in my days ever expand to allow time for it again, I’ll add it back in. There’s something about the physical act of putting words on the page – different than typing them onto a computer screen – that makes it more meaningful.

 

 

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In the Studio…

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Again this week, time in the studio has come in fits and starts, moments stolen from other activities. Still, I managed to get a little work done.

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I have several large painted papers that will eventually become the basis for collage, or paintings on their own. Right now, it’s just a matter of doing SOMETHING with that wide expanse of white space

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work continues on this large collage

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and I like the way this small collage is coming together

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and progress continues, slowly, on this large piece

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…and, finally, these panels wait for me to find the time, courage and conviction to begin exploring encaustic painting

 

What I’m Reading

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This morning, neither my brain or my body seems to want to work correctly. My back is “out” today. During several days of discomfort leading up to this, I told myself, “moving will ease the pain” or “gentle exercise will help” or “walking will make it feel better.” Today I moved unabashedly from bed to chair, crooked and moaning, and made a good dose of ibuprofen my first menu choice.

My mind is foggy, too, though I’m sipping my way through my second cup of coffee. I just looked over the notes for the writing I had planned to do today, and thought, “I have absolutely no idea where I was going with this!” A glance through a few drafts of blogs I started, and saved for later, gave me nothing better to work with. The only one near completion was titled “Ice Cream” and we’re right in the thick of winter here!

Not writing today is not an option, for many reasons. One of them is that tomorrow is the beginning of Lent. Though I’m not an actively practicing Catholic, I’ve been looking at using Lent as an impetus to get back on track, in all the little ways I’ve been back-sliding since January 1st. Blogging on a regular basis is one of my few successes in habit forming and maintenance, so.

I love to read, and usually have several books going at once, so that I can choose based on my mood, my attention span, and the amount of time I have. Winter is the time, for me, to think about self-improvement, to explore new ideas, and to delve into books that grab and hold my attention. I enjoy reading reviews of books, but am not much for writing them. This is simply a list of the books I’m reading now, with notes:

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  • A Morning Cup of Yoga by Jane Goad Trechsel. This 15-minute yoga routine (designed to be completed in the time it takes for a pot of coffee to brew) has some of the best (that is, clear and easy-to-follow) directions I’ve ever encountered. The illustrations add clarity, and the program is a great introduction (or, as in my case, a re-introduction) to the daily practice of yoga.
  • Sorted: freedom through structure by Gillian Perkins. Yet another self-help book to help me get organized and stay that way. The back cover suggests it will “enable you to finally achieve order for your schedule, home and future plans.” I hope so!

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  • Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott. Though her Bird by Bird is hands-down my favorite guide book on writing, I have found less to identify with in other books by this author. They are always well-written, easily injecting humor and spirit into hard times, they simply have not resonated with me. Hallelujah Anyway is an exception, and I’m enjoying it immensely. Her writing is such that I go back over sentences, paragraphs, and whole sections, just for the joy of seeing how masterfully she puts words together.
  • The Joy Diet by Martha Beck. Beck does a regular column in O magazine that I have read and enjoyed. I like this book, but am only very slowly working through it.
  • Thunderstruck by Erik Larson. I enjoy Larson’s work (Devil in the White City, Dead Wake, In the Garden of Beasts) for the good writing and accurate historical periods he depicts. He tends to toggle back and forth between events and people which demands a bit more attention than I sometimes have to offer.
  • Redemption Road by John Hart. My daughter recommended this author to me, when I was looking for a “can’t-put-it-down” read. This one fit the bill, and I’ll watch for more of his work.
  • Simply Clean by Betty Rapinchuk. I learned of this book from the author’s “Clean Mama” blog. It’s concise, well-written and helpful.
  • Sacred Time by Ursula Hegi. Hegi is of of my favorite authors, along with Barbara Kingsolver, Louise Erdrich, Alice McDermott, Amy Tan and Laurie R. King; their writing never disappoints. I’m always happy for a new offering, and am looking forward to starting this one.

That’s some of what I’m reading, in my cozy home, in the middle of this winter.

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #7

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List the greatest compliments and encouragement you have ever been given:

(There may have been bigger compliments, or better encouragement, but these are what have stuck in my memory. That counts for something!)

  • “Oh, I know all of that; Cindy keeps us up to date on all the family news, with her letters!” spoken by my Grandma Florence on a visit to our home in Lapeer. My chest swelled almost to bursting with pride and, at that young age – of possibly eleven or twelve – I realized that the best way to give a compliment is to speak it to someone else, within hearing of the intended recipient.
  • On the day before I got married, my Dad drove me down the drive near our home to visit a dear, old family friend, Magabelle. She would be unable to attend the ceremony, but wanted to see my dress. I went into the bathroom, changed, and came out to model it for her. While I was changing back into my jeans, Magabelle stumbled and fell to the carpet. By the time I came out of the bathroom, Dad and our friend Jerry had spotted blood, and were near panicked. “Let’s get her to the hospital,” Dad was saying. Magabelle was shaking her head, no. “Let’s take a look,” I said and, resting her hand in my lap, carefully rolled up the sleeve of her nightgown to expose the source of the blood. It was a minor scrape, made by the carpet or upholstery to her fragile skin. I cleaned it up, and covered it with a gauze bandage. All was fine. That night, upstairs in my bedroom, excited and nervous about the next day, and waiting for my maid of honor to arrive, I listened to my Dad. He was downstairs at the kitchen table, more than a little tipsy, telling Mom about the day’s events. “I’m telling you, Janice, I was just so goddamned proud of her today,” he told her, over and over. “I know, Bob, I know,” Mom responded with a touch of impatience at the repeated retelling. Her tone didn’t slow him down a bit. “I was ready to head for the hospital,” he said again, “she took care of everything! She just made me so goddamned proud!”
  • Throughout my life, I have been extremely aware of every flaw in my face or figure, and pretty vocal about it. My husband was neither sympathetic, nor quick to reassure. There were times when he laughed out loud at an expression or a particular look. Once, though, when I was whining about my “fat thighs,” he thoughtfully looked up from the newspaper and said, “No, you have strong thighs.”
  • Once, while a beginning student, I was showing some experimental paintings to Tom Nuzum, an instructor at Mott Community College, he called another instructor, Doug Hoppa, in from the hall. “I want you to see this,” he said, “Can you believe it? What are we doing, that compares?”
  • Many years later when I was preparing for my M.F.A. show, I met with a group of professors to show my work and give a short talk about it. Included were two ceramics teachers and a printmaking instructor, all of whom were very familiar with my work. I had also invited the sculpture professor, as my ceramics were large, sculptural forms. He had not seen them prior to this gathering. After I gave my talk and answered a few questions, the meeting was breaking up. The sculpture professor enclosed my hand between both of his, and said, “Thank you, whole-heartedly, for sharing this wonderful work with me!”
  • My printmaking instructor – when I stopped in for a visit a few years after graduation – introduced me to his class as “one of the best students I ever had.” Similarly, when friends from Beaver Island met my ceramics professor in Florida, he spoke in glowing terms about me and my work.
  • When I took a fit and quit my job at the hardware store a few years ago – while I was still thinking “what have I done?” and “what am I going to do?” – a former employer called me up at home, to offer me a job. It was not only extremely flattering, but one of the kindest gestures I’ve ever encountered.
  • When my granddaughter, Madeline, was twelve, and visiting me here on Beaver Island, she started a conversation with, “Grandma Cindy, we’ve got to get you a man!” I laughed, and explained that not everyone considered me to be such a prize. “What?!?” she asked, incredulous, “Grandma Cindy, you are the nicest woman in North America!” That stands, to this day, as my very favorite compliment ever!

 

In the Studio…

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My drafting table. overloaded with collage materials

I’ve been failing hugely with my planned “Timeout for Art” posts. Part of the problem is that I am not finding much time for art. I’m not getting work finished. Changes in ongoing work from one week to the next are subtle, and often nothing to boast about. In addition, I feel like I’m changing direction. So far, I’m just feeling my way, letting things happen, allowing the materials guide me. I’m not yet ready to talk about it. Still, I’d like to document the struggle. Perhaps that will act as impetus to make more progress from on week to the next.

These images offer just a glimpse of what’s going on in my studio. I’m not ready yet (OMG!!) for a wide view of the messy space, but clearing out and organizing is on my “to-do” list, so maybe…eventually. None of the artwork is finished; in fact, some of it may be on the way out, to make room for fresh beginnings. All of it is what surrounds me now, when I’m working in the studio. Enjoy!

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Some good things going on here, but I’ve been studying it for quite a while, not knowing where to go next.

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Ditto.

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This is the bare beginnings of a large new collage

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and this is a companion piece, somewhere – maybe – close to completion

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Some drawings from a series (homage to my favorite authors) that I’ve had going on as a side-line for many years now

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A couple large, textured stoneware urns waiting to be fired behind two ceramic heads (reminiscent of Easter Island, don’t you think?) that my daughter, Jen, made in high school

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Finally, a view of the inside of the studio door

Lost in Translation

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Imagine you are driving on the streets of Mexico. You come up to an intersection. There, you see a large, red sign in the shape of an octagon. White letters spell out “ALTO.” If you live in Mexico, or are fluent in the Spanish language, you probably just stop. If, like me, English is your only language, your mind does a little two-step: “ALTO…aah…STOP.” Even when the meaning is clear (and many words – hello, good-bye, pretty, thank-you – are  familiar in many languages), my brain does a little translation.

In this age of computer graphics, I find myself often in a position of having to translate from the images in much the same way. I understand that pictures are there to remove the language barrier, and it’s not a bad idea. However, I am of an age that did not grow up with pictographs; I find many of the images a bit challenging.

Facebook has a tiny fist making the “thumb’s up” gesture that you can click on to indicate that you “like” the posting. Lately, they’ve added several other choices. The heart means you “love” the posting. Already I’m in trouble. First, I encounter a short video of a kitten who is crazily following a beam of light. I “love” it. Next, an inspirational quote that seems to hit home; I “love” that, too. A video of a baby’s first encounter with a mirror: “love.”

Soon, if I take the time to scroll through my facebook feed, I will encounter other things: a couple celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary by renewing their vows; Louis Armstrong singing “What a Wonderful World;” a photo of my nephew with his two beautiful sons; the story of several bystanders who worked together to save a woman pinned under a car; a notice that my niece has just graduated from college; a wheelchair-bound Viet Nam veteran who managed to save a family from a burning building. Clearly, I was too quick on the draw with the “love.” I scroll back through, to change my initial “love”s to simple “like”s, and vow to be more judicious in the future.

The other choices are even more confusing. A wide-eyed, open-mouthed little face is supposed to be “wow” but – to me – appears frightened. The “sad” face looks ashamed, the “Haha” face seems taunting, and the “angry” face – in my interpretation – appears to be struggling with severe constipation. I don’t dare use any of them without reading the translation!

Likewise, my car uses pictographs to guide me through its foibles. There are no words to direct me, and I’m a little slow on the up-take. I was pretty quick to pick up on the fact that the image of [what for all intents and purposes looks exactly like] a fan was pointing me to the windshield wipers. I was slower to figure out that the cute little Aladdin’s lamp was actually the “oil” light.

A picture of a tiny refrigerator baffled me for a long time. What did a refrigerator have to do with my car? Do I have air conditioning? What? It’s 10 degrees outside, I certainly don’t need air conditioning! Eventually, I realized that it wasn’t really a refrigerator, but a bird’s-eye view of my car. And, if I examined it really closely, I could see that it looked like the refrigerator’s side panels were kicked out ever so slightly. That befuddling image is the “door ajar” warning!

Now and then, when the engine doesn’t quite turn over, but I don’t realize it because of the sound of the heater, I’ll see a little picture of a submarine. Or, it’s possible that it could be a primitive space helmet, like we saw in early science fiction movies. It didn’t take me long to conclude that it is actually the “engine” light. Still, not being fluent in the language of pictographs, my thoughts run this way: “Oh…submarine…or space helmet…aah…engine light!”

I’m thinking that probably people who have grown up with images-rather-than-words are not stymied in the least by them. When going to the rest room, they simply enter through the appropriate door. I, on the other hand, am slowed by trying to decipher which door has a little person-shape that appears to be wearing a skirt! I have to allow time to be lost in the translation!

 

The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #6

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List the things (from your past and present) that feel like blockades in the way of happiness:

  • Not enough money. I’ve had a running list, all of my adult life, of things I want or things I think I need once I have enough money. The list has changed madly over the years. So much, sometimes, that I think to myself, “Thank God I didn’t come into a windfall, or I would have…[whatever stupid thing I wanted to do or buy that no longer seems desirable or sensible]” There are things I’ve managed to acquire, that have not brought me the satisfaction I thought they would. Others – though I never managed to get them – that I got by very well without. I know money doesn’t buy happiness. Still, I know there are ways that the lack of it stymies my pursuit of things that would bring me great satisfaction.
  • Not enough time. I guess, if money were no object, I would have more time. They kind of go hand-in-hand. If I didn’t live hand-to-mouth, paycheck-to-paycheck, and always a little bit behind, I could spend more time with family and friends. There would be more time for the studio. More time for long walks, for sitting with a good book, for just sitting. The more I dwell on the idea of “time,” the more I know that I’m ready to spend less of it working for others, and more to follow my own heart.
  • Too much “crazy.” I’ve been wondering, lately, if perhaps I have Attention Deficit Disorder, left undiagnosed in my whole long life. Why must I have three – or more – things going on at once? I can watch a movie…if I am in my studio, simultaneously sorting odds and ends while working on at least one art project…with a book nearby. I can watch a television program, as long as there are commercial breaks when I can jump up to do a few jumping jacks, or put clothes into the dryer. Usually, during the program, I toggle between that, Pinterest, Facebook, and the news. Often I use cleaning time to also catch up on telephone calls. A day off overwhelms me with all the possibilities, and all the directions I want to follow. I know my mad pursuit of “everything all at once” gets in the way of truly appreciating any one thing.

With all of that being said, I think the most important words in the instructions are “feel like.” Because, really, the items I’ve listed are pretty minor in this large world. War, poverty and natural disasters take their toll; political disagreements and division cause bitterness; sickness and death know no boundaries. I am affected by all of it…we all are. We can’t avoid it. We can decide how we proceed, though. I rant and rail against injustices and heartbreaks large and small…and yet I am content. Not every minute, or even every single day, but, mostly, I’m happy. Because I choose to be.