Monthly Archives: June 2016

Timeout for Art: Softer Lines


collagraph postcard

By the time I was preparing for my MFA show at Michigan State University, I was pretty comfortable with the collagraph print-making process. I had created dozens of printing plates, and made several collagraph prints from each one.

My degree was in ceramics, and my show would be centered around a series of nine large ceramic sculptures. I felt it was important to show some of my original prints, too, as that was an integral part of my creative growth. My advisors suggested several finished pieces that would be representative of my work. I decided to, instead, create a series of new plates for a series of large prints that would better compliment my ceramic work.

It was a huge endeavor to take on in the last few months at university. The plates were built up on 24″ x 32″ masonite boards, which was just about as large as the press would handle. Each finished print was inked and put through the press at least three times before it was done, with drying time between each run. Unlike previous collagraphs I had made, these were hand-colored with watercolor paints, too. The series of six collagraghs took about two hundred hours to complete.

Why would I take on such an enormous project when I was busy with a thousand other necessary preparations leading up to the show, and graduation? My collagraphs had – to that point – been largely geometric patterns. Each were individual images, in various sizes depending on what I managed to find to serve as a plate.

As a backdrop for my ceramic sculpture, I wanted a series of larger images to better set of the three-dimensional work. I wanted more muted colors, and softer lines. This image – titled “Critical Density” – is one of the six that I hung for the show that year.

Taking Stock


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Two days off. It’s never enough to get everything done that I want to do.

The first day I’m always hopeful. I start out strong. Big plans. Ready to tackle everything. Sometimes I get a head start on Sunday. Sometimes I can hardly sleep on Sunday night, in anticipation of all that I plan to do.

Monday, I let myself sleep in, a little. It is my day off, after all. I linger over coffee. I make breakfast. I let other things distract me. Maybe I make a phone call or two. By noon, the panicky feeling is there, at how fast the day is rushing by, and how little I’ve accomplished. By eight o’clock, I’ve relaxed a bit. I have convinced myself that tomorrow is another day. Whatever isn’t finished, I’ll do on Tuesday. I might watch a movie, then, or take an evening walk.

Bedtime finds my mind racing once again, with all the things that need to be accomplished in the one day I have left. I set the alarm, and plan for an early start. I can’t fall asleep. I try to read. I get up, finally, thinking that if I work through the night, I can sleep late to make up for it. I’m not awake enough, though, to make much headway.

Tuesday, I’m dragging. No enthusiasm now, I’m just slogging through my tasks, in an effort to get them checked off the list. No time for getting creative; no time for relaxation. Just do it. By dinnertime, I’m bargaining with myself again. Maybe I won’t be too tired after work tomorrow, to finish this job, or that one. Maybe it will seem easier and go smoother than how it’s going now. By bedtime, I’ve taken stock of what is done and what is left to do.

I’ve never done enough.

When I’m at my day job, working at the hardware store, I give it all I’ve got…but when I leave, I’m done. I never think, “maybe I should work through the night to get that aisle in order.” Maybe I should punch a time clock at home, too. Then, at least, I could be finished, whether I was done or not.


Tuesday: Exercises in Writing #4


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The exercise today comes from What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter.

Begin a story with this line: Where were you last night?

“Where were you last night?”

She let the question hang in the air. She watched him tense at the sound of her voice, at the realization that she was awake, and that he would not make it out the door for work without having this conversation. He blinked once, slowly, and lifted his gaze from the cup of coffee sitting in front of him.

She intended to wait. She wanted to watch him try to figure out what she knew and what she didn’t. She wanted to see him squirm as he scrambled for an acceptable  answer. She would count the lies as they were told, and reject, one-by-one, his responses. She had rehearsed this encounter, through the long night ever since the ringing telephone woke her. She had refined her lines as she wrote out her frustration in her journal. She practiced, in her head,  as she sat in the dark until night gave way to morning and his car finally pulled into the driveway. She went over it again as she lay pretending to sleep, as he showered and changed into work clothes. She would be in control; he would grovel and squirm.

She listened to him moving through the house and around the kitchen. He was packing a lunch. She heard the gurgle that signaled the coffee had finished brewing. The cupboard door was opened, then closed. Then the refrigerator door. First milk in his cup, she knew, then he’d pour the hot coffee in after it. Then he’d sit. Had he slept at all last night? Not in this house. When she knew he was seated, she got out of bed and went to the kitchen.

“Where were you last night?”

The words came out deliberately, just as she’d planned. She saw him tense, before raising his gaze to meet hers. She intended to wait, in control. It lasted only a moment before her tears came. And the voice – her own voice – was no longer the practiced, modulated tones she had planned, but shrill. The anticipated lies were cut off before they started.

“Don’t lie! Don’t you lie to me! Don’t you try to tell me you were at Tom’s! Tom called for you! At midnight! I called your sister! I talked to Ken! You never even went to the bowling alley! Where were you last night?”

Suddenly, as his eyes  met hers, she knew the answer.

And she wished she had never asked the question.


Random Thoughts for Monday Morning


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Tommy has a job today, helping my friend, Vince, with some yard work. I’m unreasonably nervous about it. I want him to make a good impression. I hope he’s strong and diligent, and that he listens and learns. It’s not hard work – raking and picking up roots and branches, mostly – and I’m sure he’s capable, but still.

At my house, Tommy has a chart to mark his work time, and we have talked about things he can do to earn money here. Lord knows I could use the help! The chart is divided into two sections, as outdoor work pays at a different rate than indoor jobs. We figure his time to the quarter hour.Two days ago, he clocked in a half hour for sweeping.

“What did you sweep?” I asked him.

“The whole downstairs.”


I pointed out that his socks, my shoes, and several dog toys had not been moved from the center of the floor. It appeared that he had also managed to go around – without going under – every single table and chair. I explained that – if he were sweeping out of the goodness of his heart, to help out his old grandma, and not expecting pay – I’d be glad to say, “Good job, Tommy, and thank you very much!”

That changes, I told him, when he expects payment. Then, standards are important. I told him he needed to first pick up everything off the floor: rugs, dog beds, socks, shoes and toys. I told him to move the chairs out to sweep under everything. “Corner to corner, edge to edge,” I said. Yesterday, he clocked one full hour for sweeping. The rugs had not been picked up; the dog beds hadn’t been moved. There were still crumbs on the kitchen floor.

“One hour!?”

“Yes, I swept for an hour. Honest to god!”

I wanted to suggest that he could have made better time if he hadn’t worked so hard to avoid actually sweeping up anything…but I refrained. I remember my brother Ted at that age, not comfortable with most jobs, and Dad’s sharp reprimands. I did remind Tommy of the standards we talked about, and said that until the floor was actually clean, I was not going to pay him for cleaning it.

We worked together outside. I showed him the weeds to pull around the garden beds; he worked at that while I mowed, then we switched jobs. It was a warm afternoon. When we stopped for a glass of water, Tommy said, “Well, I think that was a good days work!” We had been at it for forty-five minutes. His face fell a little when I told him we were just getting started.

He really wants to make a pocketful of money while he’s here. I want him to feel the pleasure of earning his own money, and the satisfaction of doing a good day’s work…that extends past the first forty-five minutes!

We have a jig-saw puzzle spread out on the table, and are spending evenings putting it together. Last night, we heard one piece drop to the floor. “Better look for it right away,” I said, “’cause you’ll never find it when you sweep…”

“Awright, Grandma, good one,” he grinned.

The 52 Lists Project #26


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List the things you would change in your life right now if you could:

  • I would be financially secure enough to choose when, where and how much I worked.
  • I’d be able, too, to spend time away from the island, and be closer to family and friends when I wanted to.
  • My house would be finished…not fancy, but cute. I’d have hardwood floors in the bedrooms upstairs, and in the living and dining area downstairs. There would be linoleum in the kitchen, bathroom and entryways. I’d have 1 x 6 boards painted bright white as baseboards, and old-fashioned metal cabinets in the kitchen. I’d have a separate studio combined with a garage. That way, I could turn the studio upstairs back into a bedroom, so I’d have room for guests without turning the living room into a camp.
  • I would have more time.
  • I’d have my garden tilled up, planted and weed free.
  • I’d be better organized.
  • I’d be a better housekeeper.
  • I’d be a better person: less self-absorbed; more attentive to my family and friends. I’d send cards – on time – for birthdays and other special occasions, and pay more attention to important events in the lives of my children and grandchildren. I’d be freer with hugs, say “I love you” more often and listen better.

Of everything I’ve listed here, the last entry is most important, and most possible. It doesn’t involve drastic changes in finances or time or energy…just commitment.

Glory Days


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When the peonies bloom, as they did in my grandmother’s flower bed when I was a child, those simple, sandpile, popsicle, wooly-bear caterpillar days seem not so long ago.

There was shade under the willow tree, a bench inside the grape arbor and damp-scented dimness in the tunnel under the snowball bush, but I followed the sun. I would lay in the grass, for hours, it seems, just watching the clouds in the blue sky. I would study the ants, coming and going, from their mounded houses along the edges of the yard. I would twirl in the swing until dizziness took over, then collapse onto the hot sand. Days seem to stretch on forever as the sun held out long after supper was finished.

As a child, I loved the warmth of summer. I still do!

Taking the Chances


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I’ve always been kind of a stickler for rules  and obligations. To the point of being a pain in the ass. I even annoy myself with it, but can’t seem to let it go. There is one right way to do things, one order for getting things done. Just as I would never throw a game to let my children win, I would never say “great job,” if I didn’t mean it.

I cringe remembering times that I was presented with a well-meant offering, only to say, “well, that’s nice, but next time remember to butter the pan first…” only to see their little faces fall just a little. I shudder at the times I placed work or school or other obligations ahead of time with my children. They aren’t children anymore. Now, whatever I placed in front of them pales in comparison to the times I let pass by. Times that I can’t get back.

I have a lot to do. The writing for the upcoming issue of the Beacon has fallen largely to me, because everyone is busy this time of year. I’m busy, too, but it’s mine, so responsibility falls to me. I’m trying to work it in around all other obligations. I explained that, last evening, to my grandson, Tommy, who arrived day before yesterday. “I have to take this evening to write,” I told him.

He didn’t complain. Wanting to earn money while he’s here, he helped out for a couple hours at the hardware store yesterday, then worked at mowing my lawn for a half hour while I put dinner together. The desk was going to be my next stop. Until bedtime.

Then, I stopped. Stepped out of my rigid rule book about what needs to be done and when. Said, “Let’s make ice cream cones, load up the dogs and go to Donegal Bay for the sunset.”

“All right!”

And that’s exactly what we did.

I’ve let enough opportunities go by in my life; this was one that I captured.



Timeout for Art: Kinship


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The people we like most to spend time with, whether they are family, friends or lovers, are those we have many things in common with. That’s often the first attraction. What becomes more important, after weeks or months or years, are the differences rather than the similarities. Though we first seek out people who look like us or think like us, who share our politics or religious principles, later we look for the subtle variations. We all want to be individuals, at heart.

These were the thoughts and ideas I was exploring when I was developing this collagraph. I think the same holds true to this image: the similarities are evident, but it is the slight differences that draw you in. This is titled “Kinship.”

Mornings Like This


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There are days, Lord knows, when the only warm spot in the whole house is the space under the covers where I’ve nested through the night, and it’s awfully hard to leave it. Mornings when the air is cold and the floor is like ice and there aren’t enough socks and sweaters to  make me comfortable. When the cup of coffee that I waited so anxiously for was the first thing I touched that gave off heat. Days when tablet and book and coffee are hauled into the bathroom, where the little electric space heater creates a tolerable climate.

There are mornings in spring and fall where the first shivering action I take is to close all the windows against the cold and damp, thinking “What was I thinking, to leave things open all night?” There are mornings when the sky turns from dark gray to light gray, and that’s the only hint – in twenty-four hours – that the sun even exists. Mornings when the grass crackles with frost and an icy dew covers everything.

There are mornings – granted, few enough of them here on Beaver Island – when I wake up sticky, hot, as if I had slept in a tent. When my hair is damp from sweat and my pajamas stick to my skin. When the spot directly in front of the fan is the only place there is any movement of air. When a long drink of cold water seems absolutely necessary to survival.

And then, of course, there are mornings like this.

Tuesday: Excercises in Writing #3


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Once again, the exercise for today comes from Old Friend from Far Away (The Practice of Writing Memoir) by Natalie Goldberg:

Write what’s in front of your face. This is a grounding exercise when your mind is flitting all over. Begin with the most ordinary…If something not in front of you comes to mind, jot it down…What is in front of you anchors your mind so when you go off into memory there is weight  You don’t just fly around and never land.

I sit at the desk, facing north. Two double hung windows, mounted together, are directly in front of me. There is a breeze today, and it would be pleasant to have these windows open. That is impossible. Several years ago, when a crew came through to winterize my house, the best solution they saw for curing the draft from these old windows was to permanently seal them shut. I grumble about it all summer long. There are big, old maple trees on the north side of my house. The rustling of their leaves was a pleasant sound when the windows were open; the air coming from the shade of the trees was fresh and cool. Now, I watch spiders raising their families in the unreachable space between the window and the storm window.

The mullion between the windows has a calendar hanging on it, right in front of me. The computer screen blocks the view of all but the first row of days. That’s okay; the computer is portable. I can see the image. The calendar was a gift from my friend, Jeff, who had it made for me, featuring the Beaver Beacon. The picture for June shows an old red pickup truck. On the door of the truck are the words, “The Beaver Beacon is AWESOME!” Above the calendar hangs a framed intaglio print by David Bigelow. It shows a pig – with an elaborate pair of strapped-on wings – stepping off the edge of a cliff. The title is “Moment of Truth.”

On the bottom sill of the window, more artwork. On the left, “Welcome to Hell,” a photograph by Jason Lome; on the right, a print by his mother, Mary Rose. The image is of a moth fresh from the cocoon; the colors are blue, green, pink and gold. The title is “The Transformation from one World to Another.” On the sill that divides the windows top to bottom, from left to right: another of Mary’s images, this one a small rose; a sepia-toned photograph of seagulls over the road by Larissa McGinnity; a “View from My Window” watercolor by Mary Blocksma, painted on my birthday.

Despite the art, and a large hanging plant besides, I can still see out the window. If I look to the right, I see one edge of the newly de-limbed pine tree that stands too close to the electrical service. Directly behind that is the large beige propane tank, spattered with rust and mildew stains, a dent in the cap, from when a huge part of one maple tree split from the trunk and fell. A gnarly chunk of tree, a remnant of that incident and too large to move, sits beside the tank. A few blackberry brambles and tall stalks of grass complete the view.

If my gaze falls to the left, though, the scene is more like a Zen garden. Three stoneware sculptures stand like sentinels among the shrubbery. A low stone wall divides that wild area from the side yard. Maple seedlings soften the edges. In the distance, the sun shines through the trees, causing the trunks to stand out darkly against the wild fluorescent greens.

The desk is made of two pine boards laying on top of two black metal filing cabinets. On the right are three clay crocks full of pens, colored pencils and markers, one glass of water, a yellow legal pad with notes, my day book, a roll of packing tape and Natalie Goldberg’s book, open to this exercise. Dead center is my computer. On the left, a small stack of checks and change-of-address cards, one roll of stamps, my camera, one lavender-scented candle in a purple glass holder, a clear glass canister full of dog treats, two small succulents in terra cotta pots, and a cork coaster with my coffee cup on it.