Monthly Archives: April 2017

I Miss the Lists

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Last year, Sunday writing was based on the 52 Lists Project, a book that was a godsend of direction and inspiration in my year of daily writing. Sometimes the lists were long; sometimes short. Some were more difficult than others. They always got me thinking, and gave me something to write about. I miss the lists.

I once participated in a four-day writing workshop with author, Mary Blocksma. She started by having us divide our lives into segments that made sense to us. Early-childhood; elementary school; high school; young adult, wife and new mother; and on and on. Not too many segments…six or seven was enough. We wrote the titles of our life sections across the top of large papers with folds to divide the columns.

Then, Mary would suggest a topic…pets, for instance, and we would fill in each area of our life with what animals were in our lives at what time. Their names alone would bring up additional memories of how they came into our lives, friends and activities associated with them, and the gruesome details of their inevitable demise. Other topics were: vehicles; teachers; friends and lovers; food; entertainment. By the time we filled the sheet with notations, we had each remembered things that had not been thought about for years. Long-forgotten moments were marveled at and – later in the week – written about.

I have often pulled this exercise out to ease out details of a time or a place. Like the “lists” project, it helps to focus my attention on one thing. Either method, for me, is an aside to other writing. I love stream-of-consciousness wanderings and free-wheeling essays. When that is all I write, though, it starts to feel repetitive. The little “assignments” force me to look at things from a different angle.

This year, I presented myself with the challenge of writing three days a week, with two assignments. “Artifacts to Memories” is a memoir project based on taking common household objects and using them as the basis of my life story. “Timeout for Art” allows me a day to focus on my art, or a particular process of art-making, or to showcase the work of other artists, or – too often – to whine about not having time enough to work in the studio. Sunday was the day I allowed myself for wild, unregimented, anything-goes writing. With my usual guidelines of being kind, paying attention, and not wallowing too much in grumbling and complaints. So far, a third of the way into this year, I’ve fallen off a bit on all three.

With spring in the air, with all the promise of new beginnings, I’m making a fresh effort. In writing, as in life. So, today, on this last day of April, I am making lists. Not lists of things to write about, but of things to do, to get my life back on track. The list is not long, but it’s growing. Some things are on the list in an effort to form a new life-pattern or habit. Others reflect old efforts that have lately been neglected. Many items simply showcase a renewed commitment to things that are important to me. Writing is one of those things; time in the studio is another.

For me, the list alone is helpful. When I’m pulled in many directions, it helps to set priorities. Here’s hoping for a bright new start!

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These Days

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These days, I wake up with physical reminders of allergies that go unnoticed for much of the year. These early spring days, I am snuffly and itchy. My vision is blurred because my eyes water continuously. My head feels heavy; my mind is foggy.

These days, with the weather of short sleeves and fewer layers just around the corner, there is no more time to “think about” the diet and exercise plan. The time for action is now.

These days, one hundred outdoor projects call to me every day. There is weeding and raking to do in every flower bed, and in the yard as a whole. Shrubs need to be shaped and pruned. The climbing rose needs to have its wicked, thorny vines guided up the trellis. There are still (still!) windfall twigs and branches to be picked up, though I’ve been gathering them by the hundreds for weeks now. Then there’s the garden. With fences to be repaired and soil to be worked, weeding, pruning, planning, planting and transplanting, it is a source of unending and overwhelming obligation.

These days, when the summer season with the shop and gallery openings is right around the corner, all on-going and unfinished projects in the art studio become more pressing. If I’m going to have new work to show, it has to be finished right away. Then there is mounting, matting and framing to consider. Things that were relegated to “extra time” and “lazy days” are now urgent, and crucial, and vying for space at the top of the priority list.

Sharing that crowded top-of-the-list spot are all of the items on my wintertime agenda that have still not been completed. Deep cleaning here, a major “sort and purge” there, a few home repair plans and several reorganization intentions still wait for my attention, after the long winter of Too Little Accomplished.

These days, it’s hard to know what the weather will be. One unseasonably warm day is often followed by cold rain, wind, and unreasonable cold. Sunday, with only a light sweater over my clothes, I walked three miles with the big dog. Yesterday, having dragged my winter parka back out of the closet, I did a few turns around the yard gathering up branches and dog toys. Last week, three days of cold rain kept me inside. Fortunately, whatever the climate dictates, I have a project waiting!

High Hopes

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I don’t want to draw too much attention to my lapsed blogging of late, for fear it will become one other negative thing I identify with, like chronic lateness, procrastination, and a dependence on coffee. Then, it becomes even harder to do better.

That’s why, though I no longer walk every single day, rarely go farther than two miles and almost never at a pace that would qualify as exercise, I still label myself a walker. Though time spent in the studio is limited, and good, productive, art-making days are even more scarce, I continue to call myself an artist. I am still a gardener, though I’ve done little beyond watching the weeds crowd into my perennial beds and overtake my vegetable plot for two years now. And, even though I have neglected this blog for more than ten days and haven’t written much of anything else of any consequence either, I am still a writer.

We’ve had several cold, damp, windy and rainy that are my absolute least favorite kind of day, when it comes to weather. To add to the chill and discomfort, the thermostat on the propane stove that heats my house has quit working. As it’s almost summer, and I won’t be needing to have the heat on then, I decided the repair could wait. I manually turn on the stove when I get up in the morning, and turn it off when the house has warmed up. I do the same thing when I get home from work. It’s a fine system until three days of wind and rain come along to throw a monkey wrench into it. Then, I find myself grumbling around in a damp and cold space, morning and evening.

I spent the Easter weekend on the mainland, catching up with my dear friend, Linda. In grade school, when we first became friends, we’d take our lunches over to Crampton Park. There, under the bridge, on the narrow concrete ledge beside the water of the Flint River, we ate while we talked about boys and bras and the things we could see in the murky water. We’d share stories, laughs and big plans for the future. The many years that have passed since then were evident last weekend. We spent one long day shopping for and visiting with my elderly aunt. Another, we spent wandering through the cemetery. Still, there was lots to talk about, and plenty of laughs.

On days when it isn’t raining and cold, there is a definite scent of spring in the air. My snowdrops and narcissus are already blooming, and early tulips are in bud. The forsythia is starting to show yellow; trees and shrubs have leaves ready to unfurl. I’ve been working around the yard, and in the smaller flower beds. When the sun is out, I grab the trowel and pull the wheelbarrow out as soon as I get home from work. While the dogs entertain themselves with springtime smells and chasing snakes, I work at moving fallen leaves and pulling weeds. There’s an awful lot yet to do, but I’m seeing progress.

I have a couple new venues for my artwork this summer, so am even more determined to get some fresh work to show. I think of it in the afternoon, when I’m stocking shelves and tidying the aisles at work. I imagine going straight to the studio when I get home; I picture the projects I’ll tackle and the work I’ll get done. But, then, by the time I pull into my driveway, my energy is flagging. The dogs need to go out. The yard needs work. Then there’s dinner to think about. And clean-up. By that time, my thoughts have turned to my book, and bed.

But, here is Sunday. A new week is always filled with possibility. The sun was out, but while I’ve been sitting here, it has ducked back behind the clouds. Still, a nice day for a walk. If it’s warm enough, I’m going to open the windows to the breeze, and give the house a good cleaning. Then, I’ll let the weather dictate whether the balance of the day is spent outside in the garden, or upstairs in the studio. Either way, I have high hopes.

Artifacts to Memories: One Image

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It doesn’t take much, these days, to bring up a memory. My head seems more filled with the past than with current events. I spent a dreary cold, damp and rainy afternoon on the sofa, recently. That was enough.

I wore the sweatpants that have been a part of my wardrobe for the last twenty years.  I “inherited” them from an old boyfriend, who left them at my house. First, they were a comfortable, warm layer to throw on for running errands or taking a walk. Eventually, I wore them in the studio. I’m a messy artist; I wipe my hands on my clothes. Soon, they were fit for nothing else. Now, they are so crusted with glue, acrylic paint and polymer medium, they could probably stand on their own. Their colorful surface could tell many stories.

As a top layer, I put on my baggy pink sweatshirt. I bought it, used, a couple years ago while treasure-hunting in re-sale shops with my sister, Brenda. Two dollars. It has too many spots and stains to ever be worn in public anymore, but it’s a comfy choice when I’m at home.

Over all, because I felt chilled with the dampness, I wore my bathrobe. It is fleece, gray and dingy white, with an all over pattern of sheep . My mother bought it for me many Christmases ago because it reminded her of one I’d had when I was sixteen. First, I didn’t really think it was my style. Fleece? Sheep? I thought I would have preferred terry cloth, or chenille. I’ve grown to appreciate it, though, over the years. Now that my mom is no longer with us, I treasure it as a gift from her, along with the thoughtfulness she put into it.

One ring on my finger. That, I bought on a whim several years ago while browsing at Livingstone Studio. I’m not much of a jewelry person, but every now and then, something catches my eye. My sister, Robin, wears rings on almost every finger. It is a wonderful look for her, and one I thought of borrowing. I don’t have a lifestyle that suits rings, though. I don’t think to take them off, and my hands are too often in paint or clay, detergent or other corrosive substance. This ring has hung in there with me, though. It doesn’t turn my finger green, and it has just a bit of sparkle, that I like. It draws my eyes, sometimes, to my hand. The older I get, the more my hands remind me of my mother’s hands, and that’s always a good feeling.

One book, a crocheted afghan,  and two dogs completed the little vignette. It was a good afternoon.

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What’s Up?

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I was awakened this morning, early, with a nightmare. No monsters or killers – just another missed deadline, another failure, and another unfortunate conversation with my daughter where we each try to pin the blame on the other. It felt real, and it drove me out of bed at five AM with a racing pulse, angry, frustrated and sad.

Today is my sister’s birthday. Though she is no longer with us, I miss Nita, still, and that was playing around the corners of my mind, too.

I started coffee and sat down with my planner. On the right, a list of things I need to accomplish for my news-magazine, right away, to avoid that missed deadline of my nightmare. It is a long list. On the left, a column of other things I hoped to get to today. Right at the top, I wrote “write.” Today is blog day.

I missed writing last Sunday, on the mainland without my computer. My aunt was in the hospital (she still is!) with pneumonia. I went over to offer comfort and support, and (I admit!) to connect with three of my sisters who drove up to do the same. The island feels a little sad without her here, and I’m sure worry contributed to my gloomy mood this morning.

I missed writing on Thursday. With, once again,  no new art to display, I couldn’t bring myself to bumble my way through yet another “Timeout for Art.” I am continually frustrated by not enough time for the studio.

Today, having already missed too many days this year, writing made the top of my list. But, I didn’t get to it first. Nor did I tackle any of the varied and necessary jobs in  the right hand column. I certainly didn’t consider any of the housekeeping and gardening chores, either.

First, I checked the news. Then, I watched a “Ted Talk.” Having last week watched one by Matt Cutts titled “Try Something New for Thirty Days,” I am now trying to watch a “Ted Talk” every day…at least for thirty days. By that time, I was far enough removed from my to-do list that I could waste another block of time playing on-line Scrabble.

Lack of accomplishment never improves my mood. I finally forced myself up out of my chair, threw on sweats, and took the dogs for a walk. “Walk” was, in fact, the second item on my list. I was determined to walk off my funk, and come home with a better attitude.

As soon as I got outside, the gloom started to lift. It was a beautiful, balmy spring day! The crocus are blooming in my front yard. I could hear the prehistoric sounds of the Sandhill Cranes, returning to nest on the pond. We came upon one fallen tree with a design left by an ambitious woodpecker, and another covered with shelf fungus. A beautiful old rock pile marked the forgotten edge of an ancient field. Things were looking up! And, to top it off, if I were to happen to look up, well, that sky!

 

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Artifacts to Memories: This Pig

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I found her among the ads in the back of a gardening magazine: a cast iron piggy bank. She is different than most piggy banks, with their cartoon-like, gender-less countenance and big fat bellies designed for holding many coins. This is a realistic depiction of a pig, reminiscent of a character in an E.B.White story, with full udder pronouncing her gender and an expression that reminds me of Rodin’s “Thinker.” A noble pig.

I placed my order, with the intention of giving the bank to my father-in-law, Jack, for Christmas. When it arrived, I was so enchanted with it, I couldn’t bring myself to give it away! Jack got homemade slippers for Christmas, and the story of the pig, which made him laugh out loud and tease me with mock offense that I had kept his gift. The pig became a treasured object in my home: useful for coin collecting, heavy enough to act as a bookend, a reminder of the pigs we’d raised as children, and a beacon of hope for the small farm I hoped to someday have. It was also the first of what turned out to be quite a collection of pigs.

The next pig was a wooden cutout, varnished to shine, with an inch of twine for a tail. Then I found a pair of silly pink pig salt and pepper shakers, and a little china sow attached by short lengths of fine chain to three little piglets. I purchased a small David Bigelow intaglio print of a pig strapped into a pair of broad wings, prepared to step off the edge of a cliff. “Moment of Truth” is the title. My husband bought me a larger print by the same artist, titled “Escape from the Cycle,” that has hundreds of pigs rising up out of the grid of plowed fields and pig pens.

By that time, I was officially a “collector of pigs.” That led to gifts of swine in every form, from buttons to pot holders to throw pillows. When I spent my winters in a tiny apartment on the campus of Michigan State University, the pigs dominated the small kitchen. Three dimensional versions marched and wallowed along the top of my bookshelf. Pig towels hung from the oven door, and pig pot holders sat in a basket near the stove. It eventually became just too much pork.

When I graduated, and cleared out that apartment to move back to my home on Beaver Island, I wrapped all the little statues and packed them into a sturdy box, labelled “PIGS.” It sat in my attic here for several years as I contemplated where to display them. Life here tends more toward natural treasures. My windowsills are laden with ever-changing displays of pine cones, driftwood, shells, beach stones, and the occasional bird’s nest.  No place for pigs. Finally, I went through the box, gave several pigs away and donated others to our re-sale shop. The rest, I brought back out for use or display.

I kept the two intaglio prints; the small one always hangs above my desk. I kept a small green tin with a pig painted on the sliding lid. I kept three little squeaky rubber pigs, that my grandchildren used to play with; my big dog likes to carry them around now. I kept the jump rope with carved and painted wooden pig handles, though I doubt I’ll be starting a jump rope routine…ever.

Of course, I held onto my original cast iron piggy bank. It still has a dignified appearance; it is a good place for stray coins and continues to work well as a bookend. It makes me want to re-read the essays of E.B.White. It reminds me of hopes and dreams I’ve grown out of or abandoned. When I think about it, I am transported to a long-ago Christmas, in a much different life. I can still here Jack’s laugh, and picture his expression of mock horror as he asked, “You kept my present??” For all of that, I keep the pig.