Monthly Archives: September 2016

Clarification

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I’m sixty-four years old. I’ve been traveling this winding road that is my life long enough to have a pretty good sense of how it’s going. I am introspective. I think about things. I pay attention. Still, I keep an open mind. I listen; I learn. I have little “Ah-ha” moments, and often slight shifts in action or thought patterns. At this stage in my life, though, it is rare to come upon something or someone that offers an entirely fresh perspective. And yet, in recent weeks it has happened many times over!

The first was the book, Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert. I thought everything had already been said that could be said about creativity, and that I had already read it all. For those reasons, and because I wasn’t a huge fan of previous work by that author, I almost passed it by. I’m so glad I didn’t!

The second was a consultation with a psychic that I treated myself to, for my birthday. I told her about a burden in my life, and how I got myself involved in it. “It was ego on my part,” I said, “and greed.” I went on to explain my reasoning. She waved it off. “It doesn’t sound like ego to me,” she said, “and maybe a bit of desperation, but not greed. You should quit beating yourself up about that.” Immediately  as I heard the words, I knew it was the truth.

Currently, I’m reading Better Than Before (Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives) by Gretchen Rubin. Her best-selling book, The Happiness Project was entertaining, and I expected more of the same. This book goes so much deeper! Her husband put it this way:

“With your books about happiness, you were trying to answer the question ‘how do I become happier?’ And this habits book is ‘No, seriously, how do I become happier?’

As with the creativity book and the psychic reading, I am not getting information that is brand new to me. Rather, it is knowledge that I already have, presented in such a way that it clarifies everything that I already know and gives me a brand new way of interpreting and using that knowledge.

To be given clarification through the offering of a fresh point of view – not once, but one after another – is a surprising and wonderful gift!

 

 

Timeout for Art: Unintended Images

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This plate was one of a series I made using a long triangle centered in a rectangle. I was keeping those elements similar so that the prints would all work together as a series, but using the simple format to go wild with experiments in texture. This plate has textured and shiny papers, photo paper, stencils, string, aluminum foil pressed into wood glue, drizzles of wood glue, tea leaves, and gouges and cuts made with various sharp tools. The plate prints well, and has a lot of interesting features.

When I look at it, I see the face of a one-eyed, evil clown. No matter what soft colors I use to print the image, no matter how hard I try to subvert it, that is what I see. Customers have often chosen these simple prints in bright colors to decorate a child’s room. I would always discourage them from this one. What is an infant saw the same thing that I see?!

Of the twelve plates I made using this same basic imagery, this is the only one that seems to have human features, at all. Of all types of human or animal characteristics, why this? I was never afraid of clowns (though after this, I don’t know!), nor even had much history with them. I have never seen religious icons peeking from my abstract work. Usually, they are all quite benign. But then, when least expected, something like this appears. Unplanned and unexpected.

Summing Up

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Four days off.

In a row.

Without leaving the island.

In fact, I didn’t leave my yard except to walk down the road with my big dog. That, I did every day. Two miles on Saturday, Sunday and Monday; yesterday, just one mile in the rain. The only time I used the car was when my cousin Bob stopped by with the tractor. He had just mowed the trails through the wood lot, and offered to go over my lawn, too. I backed the car into the far front corner of the yard, so that his path would be unencumbered.

I had a long list of things I wanted to get done.

Of course, I didn’t get all the way through it.

I wasted more time than I care to admit. I stayed up late; I slept in. I talked myself out of getting panicky. And, mostly, I kept plugging away at my long list.

Yesterday was typical. I poured coffee into a lidded mug and started with a walk. I wrote my blog. I answered eleven telephone calls, responded to three Emails, downloaded a couple dozen photos, updated the subscribers database, forwarded several articles, wrote, edited, and pulled up the file for the classified ads. I cleaned out both dressers in my bedroom, and put fresh liners in the drawers. I sorted through, tried on, and weeded out clothes to be donated, and others to be thrown away. I put all my fall and winter clothes in the front dresser, and summer clothes in the dresser that sits in the back of the closet. I changed the sheets on the bed, hung two pictures on the wall and swept the floor. I did two loads of laundry, cleaned the counters, shook out the rugs and swept downstairs. I baked one loaf of bread, made baked macaroni and cheese for supper, telephoned a friend for a good chat, watered plants, did up the dishes, took a bath and went to bed.

I did not get caught up, but I made good progress.

I also did not get bored.

Or lonely.

In fact, I could quite easily adapt to this lifestyle!

 

Tuesday: Exercises in Writing #17

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From Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg:

Tell me all you know about Texas.

I know almost nothing about Texas. I almost said I’ve never been there, but then I remembered that I was. Still, I don’t know much.

My sister Brenda knows Texas. When she was in the eighth grade, she chose that state to do a major report about. She wrote to whatever agencies a student would write to to gain information. She received a fat manila envelope filled with maps and brochures. She clipped photos from them to illustrate her project. She added to her knowledge with research from our own encyclopedias, and from books she borrowed from the library. She typed her report and put it all together in a brown duo tang folder. I was intrigued, as I was was always interested in anything Brenda was doing, but I didn’t pay that much attention.

Many years later, my sisters, Sheila and Robin, their husbands and my brother David all moved to Texas. I didn’t pay attention then, either. They went to the gulf, to go swimming. David had an accident at his workplace that – I think – resulted in an injury to his feet. That’s all I know.

When my oldest daughter was a young adult, she moved to Texas with her fiance, who was transferred there for his job. I visited her there. She had a boa constrictor, and a small collection of mice that had started out as live food for the snake, and became pets when he took too long to devour them.

I spent a great deal of time sitting near her pool with a book. My daughter and I were both reading The Clan of the Cave Bear series, by Jean M. Auel. We hadn’t yet gotten tired of the huge swaths of repetitive background information she inserted between every new occurrence, and enjoyed sharing our thoughts on how the story was developing.

One day, we went for a long drive; I don’t remember the reason or the destination. Cities in Texas can annex surrounding lands as long as they are able to provide services for them. Because of this, highways are expanded outward in the most confusing manner, running in ever larger circles around the heart of the city. That’s the only thing I learned about the state while I was there.

Many years after that, my sister Nita moved to San Antonio, Texas. Her grown children lived there, too, during much of the time that she was there. Nita loved the heat, worked – when she could – at a small factory, and lived in a community with many people who spoke mainly Spanish.

Finally, last year, my sisters Brenda and Cheryl, with their partners, went to Texas on vacation. Brenda had a bout of vertigo, and missed some of the side trips. The weather was grand. The food was good.

That, I think, is every single thing I know about the state of Texas!

 

Mushrooms

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After a dry start, summer finished up with quite a lot of wet weather that has continued into September. The roadsides and fields are filling with mushrooms. Last week while blackberry-picking on the family wood lot, I came upon a huge patch of beautiful white ones. “What a shame,” I thought, “that I don’t know mushrooms!”

There are some delicious fall mushrooms. I know, because I’ve eaten them. Gathered and prepared by friends who know how to identify the edible ones, they are rich and flavorful. I hear folks talk about the “shaggy manes” but I don’t know what they look like. I don’t trust mushrooms, or my ability to tell the good ones from the deadly ones. I’d rather err on the side of caution.

In the spring, I look for morels. They are distinctive in appearance and perfectly safe. Even so, one year I gathered a bag full of the brain-shaped “beef steaks,” thinking they were morels that had grown deformed. Though people eat them, it is not advised. They contain a component that is similar to one of the ingredients in rocket fuel. It builds up in the human body. Some people eat them all their lives with no problem. Others enjoy them without issue for years, then suddenly drop dead after a meal. No, thank you!

In the fall, the only mushrooms I know and trust are puffballs. They grow, pure white and stemless, as big around as a basketball. Evidently, my grandfather had a bad reaction to them once, and didn’t allow them on his table. My dad said he and his brothers used to kick them around like a soccer ball when they’d find them in the pasture. I have never had a problem with them, and they pop up annually in by back lawn this time of year.

Unfortunately, of all mushrooms, puffballs are pretty tasteless. They will, however, pick up the flavors of what they are cooked with, so can be a nice addition of texture and protein. I brought a nice one inside last week, with the intention of dicing it, then marinating the cubes in ginger and soy sauce before sauteing them in butter. While it sat on my counter, a large white worm pushed its way out of the surface. I threw it out, then, and find I have now lost my taste for that type of wild mushroom.

This year, I’ll get my mushrooms from the grocery store, and enjoy the wild ones only in photographs!

The 52 Lists Project #39

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List the most beautiful things you have ever seen:

  • My mother’s smile. Most of her children inherited the small mouth and thin lips of my father’s side of the family, but my mother had fantastic full lips, straight white  teeth and a beautiful smile.
  • She had great legs, too. Though she opted for slacks and comfortable shoes for most of her life, in a dress that barely covered her knees and a pair of high-heeled shoes, Mom’s legs could take your breath away.
  • Babies. My own, of course, but others, too. The tiny, dimpled fingers and toes, the lush eyelashes and silky hair: I could study a baby for hours, for the little miracles that they are.
  • Miller’s Marsh, full of water lilies in full bloom.
  • An exhibit of Jasper John’s work, at a little gallery in Chicago. It was a trip with my daughter, Jen. We were out for a stroll. We just happened to stop to look. The work of one of my favorite artists was on exhibit! The art was tremendous; the whole day was serendipitous and wonderful.
  • The Parthenon. In Nashville, on vacation with my sisters, I learned that there was a full-sized replica of the Parthenon in that city. Touring the city in the evening, we stopped to see the structure, glowing white under the stars.
  • The work of Vincent Van Gogh, at the Art Institute of Chicago. Though he’s been dead for over a hundred years, when I see his work in person, with his heavy impasto brush strokes, I feel like he just stepped away from the easel!
  • The Northern Lights, here on Beaver Island, in the year that I turned forty. My family was here, to help me celebrate. We had gone to our separate places of lodging, at the end of a long day. As I was getting out of the car to go inside, I just happened to look up. Amazed, I drove to town to grab my sister, Cheryl, from her hotel room. Together, in the middle of the night, we wandered, looking up as ribbons of pink and green chased across the sky. I’ve never seen them so beautiful before or since.

This Gift to Myself

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I have taken this weekend off. Not free of all responsibility. Not traveling. No vacation, except from my job in town, at the hardware store.

I have been struggling to fit everything in, that needs to be done in my life. I have been behind in everything. My personal stuff gets set aside first: studio time, the garden, yard maintenance, housework, laundry, reading time, relaxing time…for the pressing obligations of work.

The hardware store is easy, in its way. I go in, work hard, come home. I don’t have to carry it with me. I am busy enough that other obligations are – of necessity – set aside. I don’t stay awake at night with what is left to do.

The work I do for my aunt is not hard. I shake rugs, dust, vacuum, sweep and mop floors. Sometimes there are beds to make up after visitors; sometimes do a little grocery shopping for her. It’s a pleasure. The only thing that makes it difficult is that I work it in to my own schedule. Aunt Katie is so agreeable about when I come, it’s easy for me to procrastinate. Then, before I know it, it is jammed in with several other last minute obligations.

The news-magazine is what catches me. It keeps me awake at night with worry over things not done. It fills me with guilt for every free moment that I am not spending on catching up with things that are behind. I am frustrated at my seeming inability to do it right. I struggle. But then, I get tired of the struggle, the constant, nagging worry, the piles of things to complete, the lack of time.

I waste time. I procrastinate. I shut down. Defiantly, I tell myself, “I need time for myself, too!” Yet it is not time spent mowing the lawn or doing one of a dozen organizing jobs around the house, or even doing productive work in my studio. I would feel too guilty taking time for personal obligations over this job I have taken on. It is time spent going through Email or flipping through a magazine, making lists or playing word games. Then there is guilt, and depression, and no progress. In any area.

This weekend is my gift to myself. I started today with a two-mile walk before my morning coffee, and a couple chores. I am making a check list of things I want to do. I cannot get everything caught up, but I will see some headway! Starting now!