I was planning to start this essay, the topic being “loneliness,” by saying, “of course I get lonesome for family and friends, but I don’t suffer from loneliness.”
“Loneliness” is, after all, a sad feeling of isolation. “Lonesome,” I thought, is just missing those people that I love. It turns out, they have the same meaning. Loneliness is an unpleasant emotional response to perceived isolation. It is also described as social pain, and a state of distress or discomfort. The definition for “lonesome” is pretty much identical. Definitions read, “sad or dejected as a result of lack of companionship or separation from others,” and “depressed or sad because of the lack of friends, companionship, etc.” So, maybe I’m not lonesome, either.
My mother once said, “Of all of my kids, Cindy could live on Beaver Island; she has always been the most anti-social of all my children.” When I tell that story, which usually gets a laugh, I add that I think she meant it in the nicest possible way. She was correct in her observation, though. I spent my childhood searching for places where I could be alone, and quiet, in the midst of our large and noisy household.
I used to say that a more accurate description would be “asocial,” as I don’t feel that I need people to the same level that others seem to. Checking the dictionary, though, I see that “asocial” is defined as “avoiding social interaction; inconsiderate of or hostile to others…” which is the same as anti-social.
I do miss family and friends, but I don’t feel “sad or dejected.” I want to describe it more like a feeling of melancholy, but I’m afraid that if I went back to the dictionary, I’d find that “sad” and “melancholy” also share the same meaning. What is it, then, this life I live on Beaver Island, far away from so many of the people I love?
Well, I do miss them all: my daughters, my grandchildren, my brother and sisters, nieces and nephews, and distant friends. I sometimes wish I were a bigger presence in their lives. “Sad,” “depressed,” and “dejected” are not accurate terms, though. This is just my normal life.
When I pick up the telephone and hear the voice of a loved one, my spirit leaps with joy. I feel happy excitement at the prospect of going to visit friends or family, or of having them come here. Messages from my grandchildren always warm my heart. Photos posted to social media make me feel like I’m participating, in some small way, from this great distance, in their lives.
But I am not sad. I am not pining away for those people that I love, and don’t see regularly. There were times in my life when I felt loneliness as it is defined: when my daughters first went out on their own; immediately after the end of my marriage; likewise, when other relationships ended; and often after a death, with the finality it brings. The transition of going from having someone nearby, to not…that has been hard. But those difficult, depressed feelings don’t last forever. I’ve gotten used to being alone. Maybe my first statement was correct after all: I don’t suffer from loneliness.
With an art show coming up, I pulled some support materials out of an old file: biography, resume, and artist statement. I had several versions of each. They were assembled when I was more actively pursuing employment in the field of art, or looking to broaden my gallery representation. Each would need a serious up-date if I were to use them now. Luckily, none have been requested for this particular show.
It got me thinking, though, about how to define my art. I’ve heard that we should all have an “elevator pitch” ready. Taking into consideration that an elevator ride generally takes less than two minutes, it is a brief statement of who you are and what your best assets are. Or, in my case, what I am trying to accomplish through my art.
In the studio, as long as I’m working regularly there, it is not an issue. Sometimes I have a pre-conceived idea; more often I let the materials guide me. Problems in technique, composition or process lead to new directions. One piece leads me to the next. It all makes good sense…until I try to put it into words. In under two minutes, no less! My elevator pitches tend to be long, rambling affairs that add little understanding of my intent.
An “artist statement,” one would think, would be a better opportunity to explain myself. First, because it is written out, I can take more time to think about what I want to say. Second, I can edit for accuracy and clarity. Finally, there is no stammering over words when it’s in writing. That’s a big advantage for me!
Except for being written instead of spoken, the artist statement is similar to an elevator pitch, but longer. It should explain or contextualize the artist’s work, noting influences or inspirations. Basically, especially for people like me who work largely in the abstract, it is a chance to let people know that it’s intentional, and that I know what I’m doing. I’m still not overly comfortable with the format, but I have managed to hammer out a new statement, that I think reflects my work, and my motivation:
I am intrigued by the calendar, and the numerous ways we mark the passage of time. Other influences come from many diverse sources, including poetry, natural formations of earth and rock, stained glass windows, weather-worn signs and buildings, variegated yarns, and the idea that there is beauty in imperfection.
Though these ideas sometimes direct me, and often guide the progression of a piece, my work is mainly an exploration of methods and materials. I allow myself to be pulled along by the process. The medium, whether paint, printer’s ink, or the scraps and detritus that form the basis of collage, dictate the direction. My training comes in to play in pulling it all together.
In my work, as in my life, I want to convey a sense of structure and security, a bit of mystery, an attachment to the earth, a softening with age and the passage of time.
The other day, I gathered stalks with curled, dried leaves, seed pods, and late blooming flowers to make a seasonal bouquet. This morning, having carved out a tiny space at the table to write in my journal, I thought wistfully about how nice it would be to display that arrangement there. Impossible! The main focus in this household is getting ready for my October art show.
My dining room table is covered with a variety of piles. There is a pretty big stack of matted collages, waiting to be mounted into frames. The frames have been ordered and shipped, but have not yet arrived here on the island. Next to that are incidental items used for matting and framing: linen hinging tape, glazier’s points, screw eyes, scissors, gimlet, screwdriver, tape measure. There is a pile of foam sheets, to layer between artwork, to protect it from scratches. There is a stack of papers to be filed, one of bills to be paid, and one of paperwork I’ll need to bring downstate with me.
The chairs are equally occupied with the task at hand. One holds a stack of plexiglass sheets; a box of metal frame rails sits on another; mat board occupies a third. My purse moves from the fourth dining chair to my desk chair, depending on where I need to be. In the kitchen, two large, recently assembled frames lean against the freezer. The laundry room is filled with boxes and sheets of cardboard. In the living room, another collection of boxes reflects the work that is finished and ready to ship.
My plan was to have one hundred pieces of artwork to display. I’m on track with that goal. Fifty-four pieces are mounted, framed, boxed up and catalogued. Twenty others need picture hanging wire attached, and to have their titles and prices added to my master list. Two large paintings have to be mounted into their frames. I’m waiting on plexiglass for three collagraphs. And, there are those few frames that are still en route. Compared to how I’ve met with other deadlines in my life, I’m doing pretty well!
Clearly, though, I’m behind in almost everything else! Recent rains have gotten the grass growing, and the yard once again needs to be mowed. My garden is just about done for the season. I’ve quit pulling weeds, or worrying what the deer might steal. At this point, anything I can harvest is a bonus and, frankly, more than I have time to deal with. There’s already a big bag of green beans taking up a shelf in my refrigerator, waiting to be trimmed, sliced, blanched and bagged for the freezer.
I gathered up all the other produce last evening. There were several zucchini and yellow crookneck squash, half of a head of cauliflower, a few stalks of Swiss chard, a half-dozen tomatoes and an equal number of hot peppers. I cleaned and chopped, then combined it all in my big kettle, to simmer until it was soft. Just before bed, I shuffled things around to make room in the refrigerator for that mixture. Today, I’ll put it through the food mill, and portion it out for the freezer. In the winter, I’ll use it in place of water in soups and stews. It’s a small accomplishment, but I’ll accept it!
The calendar tells me that it’s been two weeks since I last posted a blog. That’s okay. During the last two weeks, I had company, worked 13 days in a row at two jobs outside of my home, harvested whatever was ripe, and did a mountain of framing. Sometimes, the best thing is to ignore what has been neglected, and focus on what did get done. That’s what I’m doing!