Monthly Archives: March 2021

Genius

Standard

So, what could I write about genius? I’d been puzzling over that topic for days. I have no special knowledge nor even a particular opinion about the subject. Certainly, I’m no genius!

Then, in a bit of synchronicity that the author would have relished, I turned to a new chapter of The 5AM Club to find The 10 Tactics of Lifelong Genius. “Well,” I thought, “It’s about time I received some kind of pay-back for the endurance I’ve shown with this book!”

I used to be a more steadfast reader. I finished every single book I started. Some were more worthwhile than others, but I appreciated every one. I was younger then. I had better vision. I had more time for reading. No more! If a book doesn’t grab and hold my interest, I will set it aside.

There are exceptions. The Shipping News not only started slowly, but had one of the saddest first chapters I’ve encountered. Sad in the manner of The Grapes of Wrath. Discouraging, like The Beans of Egypt, Maine, where every single character lived a sad, pathetic life. I wasn’t in the mood for another depressing book! At this time in my life, I am almost never looking for that in my reading material. I stuck with it, though, and The Shipping News redeemed itself, and became one of my all-time favorite books.

I didn’t expect that from this book, though. The author, Robin Sharma, has written several well-received books, and the premise sounded interesting. Anticipating some travel that would give me more time for books, I downloaded it onto my reader in January of last year. Yes, last year. A self-help book disguised as a pithy romance, this book did not appeal to me at all.

Now, I don’t mind a self-help book. In fact, I have kind of a weakness for them. I almost always feel like I could use improvement, and that more insight would help. I get a little bristly when other humans offer advice, but I accept it pretty easily from books. I don’t mind information being passed on through the telling of a story, either, when it is done well. Daniel Quinn managed it brilliantly in Ishmael; Richard Bach succeeded, too, with Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Illusions. The Celestine Prophesy, not so much. It, and the several sequels by James Redfield. had a wonderful message, but I found the story-line distracting.

Looking into other books by Robin Sharma, it appears that this author is both prolific and popular, and I may be unfairly judging his work or ability based on my singular experience. From what I’ve read, though, the characters that promote the message in The 5AM Club are poorly drawn caricatures that introduce and promote the information through one stupid question after another. Answers are doled out in a painfully slow manner, between burps, inexplicable bits of yodeling, and severe bouts of coughing. Only one character has a name; the others are known only as the Artist, the Entrepreneur, and the Spellbinder. The fourth, Stone Riley, is most often referred to as the Billionaire. For most of the book, it seemed like I was the only one who knew that his terrible cough was something to worry about.

In fairness, the book does have merit. There is good information, and even some inspiration in it, but it was a dreadfully long time coming. It was only because it was on my reader, and I was without any other reading material, that I ever got back to it. If it had been an actual book that I had set aside, I would have never picked it up again! But, then, I would have missed out on “The 10 Tactics of Lifelong Genius,” and something to write about today. As for the actual tactics…well, maybe you’ll have to read the book!

Timeout for Art: Work

Standard
“Jig” detail

When I use the term “work” when talking about art, it is often a noun. I’ve talked about current work, old work, new work and body of work. Artwork, as a noun, is the product of my efforts. It’s the result of the verb, art work. Lately, it’s the action word I’ve been concentrating on.

The gallery that carries my art here on Beaver Island will be opening soon, for the season. I always like to have new pieces to show. The Museum Week Art Show, in July, is also on my calendar. I have an art show coming up in October, in my home town of Lapeer, Michigan. I plan to have about seventy-five new works for that show. And, it’s already March.

The busy summer season here on Beaver Island is right around the corner. The hardware store business is picking up each week, and will only get busier as the weather gets warmer. In June, I’ll start my job at the golf course, which will fill my summer weekends. Soon, I’ll add gardening and mowing to my household chores. It won’t be long before I have neither time or energy for studio work, so the pressure is on right now.

Last weekend, I spent three long days on studio work. Activities included coating collages, sealing collagraph plates, priming surfaces for new paintings, varnishing finished paintings, and much-needed cleaning. I picked up an order of paper for a collagraph series, and ordered blotter paper and ink for the same series. I measured finished paintings and started to put together a list of frames to order for them. I ordered mats, backer board, plexiglas and frames for thirty collages.

As always happens this time of year, I worry about the amount of money going out, with no guarantee of return on my investment. Also as usually happens, when I’m putting finishing touches on some work, fresh variations and new ideas come to me. I have to constantly remind myself to stick to the program at hand, not go off in a brand new direction. The trouble is, that sounds like play to me, where what I am doing feels so much like…WORK!

Friendship

Standard

Like most everyone, my life experiences have determined my friends. The first source was family. My sister, Brenda, was my very first friend. Even though she tried to tip me out of my bouncy chair when I was just a baby (she was still a baby, too, just one year older than me), and even though it often seemed like we were mortal enemies, I have always adored her. When she refused to play with me, though, there were younger siblings that could fill in. Stand-by friends, you might say.

Next came the children of my mother’s friends. Sandra, the daughter of Mom’s friend, Pat, who lived next door, was one of my earliest friends. Though there were many gaps in our friendship, we graduated high school in the same class and later both lived on Beaver Island. Our oldest daughters were the same age, attended school together, and became good friends, too. Patti and Tena, daughters of Mom’s friend, Peg, were the same ages as Brenda and I, so we became friends out of convenience…or by default.

Cousins, that we saw when their families came to visit, became friends, too. Uncle Al and Aunt Mary Lou had four boys; Craig was less than a year younger than Brenda, Gary a little younger than me. The rest of the cousins were younger, and played with my younger brothers and sisters. They often visited when my Dad had a big project going: butchering pigs or chickens, for instance, so age became secondary to all the exciting business at hand. When Aunt Margaret moved in next door with her eight young children, we roamed the big yard and the fields behind as if we were one big family. When we got a baseball game going, we needed to include everyone, to have full teams. When Dad was slicing watermelon, or Aunt Margaret was making ice cream, we were all the best of friends!

I was a painfully shy child and socially inept little girl, and didn’t make friends easily. I was in elementary school for five years before I had made a single good friend there. Emboldened by that milestone, more friendships developed, and many of those have lasted through my life.

Some friends were constant. Mary has turned up at weddings, funerals and other occasions big and small; her presence is always a blessing. Linda and I were attendants in each other’s weddings, and we’ve been together through raising children, attending college, poverty, divorces, and deaths. I can’t imagine who I would be, without her influence in my life. Other friends, I have reconnected with through class reunions and social media. It amazes me how those shared beginnings, now so long ago, have contributed to many similar values, life choices and even sense of humor!

As an adult, it seems affection develops from life experience. I formed lasting friendships with fellow students, advisors, and members of the faculty when I was in college. Every job I’ve held has resulted in new friends. Some were people that I worked with; others were regular customers. In both cases, the bond expanded well beyond the workplace. The internet has opened up an entirely new avenue for meeting people and forming bonds. I have many friends that I know only through on-line Scrabble; others that I communicate with through social media; many others that I know only from the blogging community. It’s surprising how well you can get to know people from simply reading and responding to what they have to say!

As the years go by, mutual history takes on more importance. Shared memories, broad or narrow, influence friendships. I feel like I automatically have things in common with folks that remember and love the Beatles, or those who identify with the hippie culture of the 60s. I’ve found that people who share a Catholic school education can always find things they have in common, no matter if their schools were in different countries and cultures. People who have given birth, or raised teen-agers, or worried over their adult children, will find things to identify with.

My children, who have known me only as an adult, but who now share many years and life-experiences with me, have become some of my closest allies. I have a special bond with the members of my family who have shared the same up-bringing, life-experiences, joy and grief that have shaped my values. So, in some ways, it goes right back to the beginning: family are friends, and friends are family!

Timeout for Art: Varnish

Standard

The landing at the top of the stairs that leads to my studio is a little crowded right now. I’ve been varnishing. That’s a big deal!

Varnish is the final, protective coat applied over a painting. Knowing when to stop working into a piece, recognizing when it is finished, is difficult for many artists, me included.

This particular group of paintings has been “underway” for at least two years. Each has gone through several, sometimes dramatic, transformations. I have displayed them individually in my studio, so that I could ponder what their strengths and weaknesses were, where they needed adjustment, and what that might look like.

I have hidden them away for months at a time. Sometimes that’s in hope that when I see a piece again after a period of time, I’ll have better insight as to how to proceed. Sometimes it’s just one step on the way to the trash bin.

These paintings are done on sturdy, custom-cut sheets of plywood, carefully primed and prepared for paint. That saved them! Even when I was totally discouraged with the imagery, I felt that I could still use the surfaces for experimentation. And I did. These pieces have had collage elements adhered to the surface, and have had those elements variously enhanced and obscured by paint. The surfaces have been painted over, scraped down, sanded and polished.

Not in every case, but a few finally got moved to the “finished” pile. Varnishing makes that decision final.

Forgiveness

Standard

There is a story I’ve told before, about how Pat Burris, who at that time was our next-door neighbor, had her baby just a week before my mother gave birth, and usurped the baby girl name that Mom had picked out. So, when Mom also had a baby girl, she had to come up with another name. Though they were lifelong friends, Mom never forgave Pat for that. Seventy years later, when the conversation turned to Pat, or to her daughter, Shari, or to my named-at-the-last-minute sister, Sheila, Mom would point out the fact that Pat had stolen her baby name.

I must take after my mother in that regard. Forgiveness is one of those things that I KNOW is important, but that is so, so difficult to achieve. I have learned how to move on from insult or injury. That, alone, is a major accomplishment. But I don’t forget and, if I’m honest, I rarely forgive.

I attribute it, partly at least, to my good memory. I can not only remember incidents that happened years ago, I can recollect the way they made me feel. I can bring up the emotion as if it were yesterday. So, when that emotion involves hurt feelings resulting from being snubbed or slighted or slandered, I still feel the pain, and the bitterness lingers.

I hold on to things that are of absolutely no consequence in my life today. When I was five years old, and my mother punished me unfairly. When my Dad deliberately missed my Confirmation ceremony, too busy setting off dynamite charges to get rid of tree stumps. When my sister mocked my skinny legs. When a teacher singled me out for blame on the rare occasion when I was blameless. It’s not that I’m still mad, no. It’s that the lingering feelings of resentment let me know that forgiveness has not happened yet.

These things are all in the far distant past. Between the time of my childhood and now, I’ve been married and divorced. I’ve raised children. I have had businesses and partnerships and jobs, and have experienced friendships of all kinds. Imagine all the indignation I could hold on to, from all of those interactions over the years!

I give myself a little grace in this area. I know that these old grudges hurt me more than anyone else. I also know that I hold myself to an even higher standard, and that I don’t forgive myself, either. I remember a time my Mom came into my room and put her arm around me, and I turned my back to her. I remember a dozen times when I behaved unkindly to my parents, or to my brothers and sisters. A thousand times, at least, when I messed up as a parent. A million times when I, out in the world, said the wrong thing or didn’t speak up when I should have. These things haunt me, too, if I dwell on them. When it comes to forgiveness, I should learn to be as generous with it as others have been with me!

Timeout for Art: Underway

Standard

Weeks (maybe months?) after photographing some of these collages as “new work,” I am still plugging away at them. Individually, they have each been studied, sometimes close-up to detect flaws in the surface, other times while hung on the wall a few feet away, so I can better judge the composition and the way the colors work together. They have spent some time stacked between sheets of waxed paper under weighted boards to flatten them.

Recently, I spread the collages out on the floor and, using a tiny brush, added a curving trail of purple dots that snaked from one image to another. When that application was dry, I rearranged the pieces on the floor, and used the edge of a piece of cardboard dipped in another color, made a series of thin double lines (=) that linked each image with one of its neighbors. My plan is that these slight elements will, no matter how they are ultimately displayed, serve to reinforce the similarities between all of the images.

The next step, and what I intend to tackle today, is to again examine each collage by itself. I’ll add a bit of shading or color if needed, and make sure all elements on the surface are completely and properly sealed. Last, I’ll finish with a coat of matte varnish. These collages – there are forty in this group – are not yet finished, but they are well underway.

Disappointment

Standard

The more I think about it, the more it seems that disappointment is a pretty common emotion in my household. I’m surprised at how often it comes up!

I was planning to write about a job I recently applied for, and did not get. With help from my sweet daughter, Kate, I updated my resume. I filled out the application form and read through the job description. Then I debated about whether I really wanted the position or not. At the eleventh hour, I turned in the paperwork. An interview was scheduled. I anticipated topics and prepared possible responses. I also wrote out several questions about the job requirements. I had a long conversation via “zoom” with Kate and her family, to make myself comfortable with the on-line meeting format, and to make sure the screen was placed so that I was not looking ghoulish, or like I had a double chin.

The only glitch, on the day of the scheduled meeting, was several inches of fresh snow. While I was waiting for the interview to start, the road truck went down the road, throwing all of my dogs into fits of barking. They had just calmed down when the other participants showed up on screen. I started right out with a warning that, if the young man showed up to plow my driveway, I’d have to interrupt the interview to put at least one dog (Rosa Parks is the instigator) into “time-out.” It’s good that I warned them, because that exact thing happened!

Beyond that, though, the interview went well, in my opinion. I was able to communicate my abilities, voice my concerns, and address their questions confidently. I know all of the other participants, and they were each as friendly, kind and generous as I expected they would be. The next day, I got a call letting me know I did not get the position.

I felt a little twinge of disappointment, sure. It would have been nice to be working at something challenging like that. It would be a chance to use my abilities and education; I’d be learning new skills, increasing my knowledge and stretching my boundaries. The money would be helpful.

If I had gotten the position, though, I’m sure I would have felt an equal amount of disappointment. I’d had so many concerns. Did I really want to take on a third part-time job? The hours to fulfill the requirements of the position would not, I’m sure, include the self-training I’d need to update my computer skills. Would I be a failure? Was I trying to do too much? When would I find time to make art? To walk the dogs?

So, that’s one example, in my life, of “Disappointment-No-Matter-What.” It’s a fairly regular occurrence. I walked, penguin-like, to the end of my icy driveway yesterday, only to find the entire length of Fox Lake Road to be equally as icy. Too slippery to take a long walk. That’s a disappointment. The day before, the road to the north was nearly clear, and the dogs and I went for a good long walk…which eliminated time to get in the studio before dinner. That was disappointing.

It’s kind of a trade-off. I’m always a tiny bit disappointed when I finish a good book, but I’m excited, in equal measure, to begin a new one. Every page that I turn in my journal gives me a wisp of disappointment at the lack of accomplishment and the too-swift passage of time. Yet every new page is a fresh start, with new promise and possibility. Disappointment at not being able to travel means, at the same time, no guilt and turmoil over leaving the dogs at the kennel. Disappointment over not being able to eat out is accompanied by the comfortable pleasure of enjoying my own cooking at home, with book in hand, and three dogs waiting for leftovers.

Disappointments are just little bumps along the road that remind me to take notice. They aren’t devastating; they don’t lead to despair. They are part of the juggling act in my life, where there are many good things that cannot all be acted upon at once. That kind of disappointment, I can live with!

Timeout for Art: Time

Standard

Time. In the context of art, time is invaluable.

It’s not only the time needed to execute a piece of art, though that cannot be diminished. Some aspects simply cannot be rushed. Things need to set up, or dry, before the next step. Some things just take a long time. I have collagraph plates that take more than two hours to ink and wipe, and that is just one small aspect of the printmaking process. Papers have to be dampened and wrapped about twenty-four hour before they’re used for printing. If they sit too long, depending on the conditions, they will either dry out, or mold. No matter the process or medium, things have to progress in some order.

Often, the beginning is the hardest part: sifting through ideas, letting them percolate, gathering materials, gaining momentum. It’s easy to say (it must be, because it’s repeated so often), “if you only have ten minutes for your art, just give it ten minutes,” but that ignores all of the factors that come before actual art-making. I could take ten minutes just to change out of street clothes and into the paint-spattered, medium-crusted, raggedy sweats that are reserved for the studio. I guarantee that clean-up when I’m finished will take longer than that!

People, those who don’t understand how creative work differs from many other tasks, will often ask, “How many hours would something like that take?” One friend, a quilt maker, deemed a question like that reason to end the conversation and show them the door. Others have cute answers that include all of their years of practice, education and experience. It is the question itself that is flawed; there is no right answer. Sometimes the layout goes smoothly for a drawing or painting, and the undertaking slows after that. In other circumstances, the reverse is true. I’ve spent hours, weeks, months of struggle to bring a piece of art to satisfactory conclusion. Other times, like magic, everything falls together easily, and the results shine. Time means nothing, and at the same time, it means everything.