Not the best photos, but true to color. Each mixed media collage is 12″ x 18″, matted.
Not the best photos, but true to color. Each mixed media collage is 12″ x 18″, matted.
I’m sure that every single childhood summer day was not as perfect as those that live on in my memory. I know there must have been times when the heat seemed too much, or the days seemed too long. I have vague memories of begging to come inside out of the heat, of complaining that there was nothing to do, and of anxiously wishing for school to start back up. Mostly, though, the impressions that I hold are of long, lazy, sunshiny days, with fields to explore and the ever-present shade of the big willow tree.
Summer was playing in the sprinkler and wandering barefoot around the yard. It was reading for hours with my feet in the sand. Walks to the store for ice cream, and to the beach for the cool water. It was green fruit from the orchard, fresh peas from the garden, and bunches of grapes plucked from the vines. It was vacations on Beaver Island and all the perfect white-sand-blue-sky-warm-days-cool-nights magic it offered. In my memory, summer lives on as a perfect time.
Those memories – faulty though they may be – are what fuel all of my present-day hopes for summer, in the same way that anticipation for Christmas is fed by an impression of that perfect holiday, that may not have ever truly existed. Because of my high hopes, summers are often a bit of a disappointment.
I take care of my own yard and garden. That has managed, most years, to take up much of my spare time while still constantly frustrating me. The garden was always lacking something; I was constantly behind schedule, whether for planting or harvesting; the grass was always overgrown; the weeds continually got the better of me. Housework, studio time, and other projects had to be squeezed in around other obligations.
This is the busiest time of year here on Beaver Island; it’s when I work the hardest, and the longest hours at my job, whatever that job is. It’s also the time when family and friends come here. Of course, I want to find time to see them! Many summers, the only time I get to the beach, to the shore to watch a sunset, or visit any of the wonderful sites that Beaver Island has to offer, is when I go with visitors.
Not this year! Because I was stuck (most pleasantly, but still…) on vacation due to travel restrictions caused by the pandemic, then had two weeks of mandatory self-quarantine before I could go back to work…I was replaced in my job. I should be concerned, but I’m not. I’m too busy, frankly, enjoying myself. For the first time since I moved to Beaver Island (in 1978!), I am not working this summer!
I wake up every morning to the rooster crowing with a smile on my face, knowing I have this time. I’m doing a little volunteer work. I’m making art. I have a whole routine of meditation, gratitude, reading, drawing, writing and yoga that I enjoy immensely. I’m growing my garden. I’m mowing my lawn before the grass is knee high. I take the dogs for walks morning and evening. Today, I’m contemplating a drive with them down to Fox Lake. I’ll bring my book. I had an ice cream cone for lunch. This is the summer I’ve been dreaming of!
Beginning is the hardest part of almost every endeavor. That certainly holds true for art projects.
Once the studio habit is formed, it’s easier to walk into that room regularly. I know what I’ll be working on, which materials I’ll need, and where to find them. Often, works-in-progress will be out, and waiting for me.
Once projects are underway, it’s easy to keep the momentum going. Problems seem to work themselves out as I sleep, and I know exactly what to do next. Daily rituals in the studio help me warm up to the materials, fill time while waiting for paint to dry, or help me try out new ideas. Successes help to generate confidence in the next process.
None of those things are true for me, right now. Though I have more time at home than usual, other things have kept me out of the studio. Gardening and yard work are springtime necessities, I can’t deny. I’ve got a list of other daily tasks to complete, from household chores to exercise to on-line classes. Still. I recognize avoidance when I am involved in it.
The only way to get over it…is to begin. Go to the studio. Tidy up. Get rid of the failures. Just sit; be in the space. Don’t expect miracles. Don’t look too far ahead. Start.
I’ve been making little thumbnail sketches each day, with fine-tipped marker in my sketch book. Expanding on that habit, I made a little list of items to draw, with soft pencil on good rag paper. That way, when I am unable to do anything else, there is an assignment to fill the empty time. At best, the series of drawings might eventually make a nice display; at the very least, it keeps my drawing skills honed.
Recently, I had a series of collages fail because of technical problems that distracted from the compositions. I’d already ordered mats for them, so I have several mats to fill. I chose good printing paper (Rives BFK, in this instance) so that I wouldn’t have issues with a wavy, buckled surface. I measured and cut them to the desired size. Wanting some color on the surface, I applied a loose, light watercolor wash.
While the papers dried, I went through my collection of collage materials, and set aside some possibilities. I cleaned my brushes and tidied the work table. Then I did one small drawing of a paper bag. That’s it. Not much, granted, but for me, a good beginning.
I am an artist. I used to have a hard time saying that. It seemed presumptuous, premature, or like I was putting on airs. I’d say, “I want to be an artist,” or “I take art classes,” or “I like to make things.” Though it was as much a part of my individuality as almost anything else, it was a hard title to claim. Mother, daughter, sister, friend, of course. Student, walker, gardener, cook, teacher, sure. But “artist” seemed a designation for someone living a life far different than mine.
Even when I finally, after much practice and self-talk, learned to say, “I am an artist,” I half expected to be called out on it. Though I studied art for many years, and have a couple degrees to prove it, and though my work hangs in colleges, galleries, and many homes and businesses, I sometimes feel like an imposter. My life is pretty ordinary. My jobs have been simple menial labor positions. I don’t dress flamboyantly. Yet here I am. An artist.
What’s that like, a day in the life of an artist? Well, I can’t speak for others, but I can describe my day: today. I get up to an alarm, because I have trouble falling asleep, and staying asleep at night. If I’m really regimented about getting up at a set time each morning, I find insomnia is not such a big problem. I have a regular morning routine that includes meditation, gratitude, drawing, studying, yoga and quite a bit of coffee drinking.
This morning, I had an appointment at the medical center. My cholesterol runs high; my thyroid runs low. Periodically, I have to make sure the medicines I’m on are doing their jobs. So, today I went in for a blood draw. I mailed a few letters and picked up my mail, then picked up my pre-ordered groceries at the store.
Home, I checked the news, then took the dogs for their first walk of the day. I carry a bag of kibble, to keep them close to me and to reward them along the way. I also carry my little electronic tablet. I have the Audible app, and listen while I walk. Right now, I’m enjoying A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.
Today, now that the lawn is mowed, was my day for getting the garden planted. I’m late. Not too late for Beaver Island, but late enough where I have to be serious about it. I am afraid Ruth Stout’s no-work garden plan is going to have to be set aside this year. It’s too late to get a load of straw delivered from the mainland. The straw I’ve used to hold in moisture and keep weeds at bay is on its third year in my garden, and losing its power. Proof is the prolific crop of weeds, covering the entire garden.
I pulled weeds: three heaping wheelbarrow loads of weeds. I cut back and pulled up blackberry brambles, worked up the soil, and planted six tomato plants and sixteen basil plants. And, on this day when I intended to get the garden done, that wasn’t nearly enough. I’ll have to get an early start tomorrow.
I emptied my compost into the big bin. Since the fire danger was low, I took the opportunity to burn papers and windfall. I put a load of towels on the clothesline, took the dogs for another walk, and came inside for the night. After getting cleaned up, I fed the dogs, made a big pasta salad and sat down to dinner. Then, remembered that Wednesday is the day I’m going to post a blog about art. Or, in this case, what a day in the life of this artist is like!
Yesterday was “Vet Day,” which is a big, nerve-wracking deal in this household. Vet in this case means Veterinarian, not Veteran. We’re all pretty calm and cool on Veteran’s Day. Not so much when the dogs have to see the doctor. Between the doctor tending to his mainland business and being here only intermittently, and my forays (that led to extended stays) off the island, this visit was a long time coming, and somewhat overdue.
Blackie Chan needed vaccinations for Distemper and Bordetella. He also has somehow hurt himself, and has been limping and sometimes whimpering in pain. I needed to have that checked out. He and Rosa Parks both needed their nails clipped. All three dogs – Blackie Chan, Rosa Parks and Darla – needed to have a blood test to check for heart worm, so that they could begin their summer preventative. All three needed the chewable tablet that keeps fleas and ticks away. For Darla (who has a hundred mosquitoes clinging to her whenever she goes out), I added the topical liquid that repels and kills fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes.
I’d meant to ask the vet to check the ears of the two little dogs, but I forgot. That will have to wait for next time. It was already a difficult day for all of us. Darla caught me with a tooth, in an effort to get away from the needle. Rosa Parks was her usual melodramatic self over every procedure, squirming and crying out as if she were being tortured. Blackie Chan was more difficult than he’s ever been before.
By the time I got them home, I was shaking like a leaf. I thought of my friend Pam, who would dissolve in nerves and ask for a hug for moral support, even when her dogs came in for a simple wellness check. I thought of calling her, for understanding, but talked myself out of it. Half my day was already gone, and I still had lawn to mow. I poured a cup of coffee and sat down to drink it while the dogs settled in. Then, Pam called me!! Out of the blue, just like she had read my mind, or sensed my need. Like a friendly dog-loving miracle!
After that, more in the mood for chatting than mowing, I called my sister Brenda. It seems like I’ll go long stretches talking to no one but myself and the dogs. Even so, I don’t say much. I’m just not that much of a talker. Then, I get in a conversation with another human, and I can’t seem to stop! That’s how it was yesterday: two long, rambling conversations. Leaving me very little time for my planned yard work.
I mowed last evening until I ran out of gas. Today, I went back at it. This is a perfect day for that job: it is cooler than it’s been, and there’s a nice breeze. The forsythia, rhododendrons and cherry trees are in bloom; a nicely mowed lawn will let the blossoms stand out. By the time the damp, long grass caused the mower to stall, I had remembered that I’d forgotten my Sunday blog. Well! I was ready for a break, anyway. Now, I suppose I’d better get back to it!
Several years ago, along with my friend Lisa, I started posting weekly under the title, “Timeout for Art.” It was planned as a way to share our works-in-progress, and as a means of bringing art – a big part of both of our lives – into the conversation. It was a good idea. That fact alone was not enough, however, to overcome a lifetime of bad habits, procrastination and neglect on my part.
Though I always enjoyed seeing what Lisa and others were up to, I struggled with the commitment. “Timeout for Art” was one more writing obligation. “Even less time,” I told myself, “to actually make art.” Sometimes, I posted my own not-so-current works, and the work of other artists. Often I simply skipped that post entirely, settling for all of the accompanying guilt and self-recrimination. Finally, I dropped even the pretense of keeping up with our arrangement.
Aware of all of these tendencies in myself, I’ve been hesitant to try this again. I am always optimistic, though, about my ability for self-improvement. With many galleries unable to open this year, this might be a reasonable way to show my work. It is a place to talk about my processes, struggles, and inspiration. As an artist who lives on a remote island, and lives a solitary life, it’s a means of reaching out. Maybe the time is right.
My thought is to devote one day a week to art. For me, it will be an exercise in discipline. I hope it will be interesting for readers, as well. Today, though I’d intended to have several images of finished works to display, I’ve run into a few snags. Let me tell you about that.
Several collages (eighteen, in fact!) that I’ve spent the last several weeks on have turned out to be failures. Oh, they have their good points. The colors are lovely; the compositions are solid. I enjoyed working with different dimensions (long, skinny rectangles) than usual. I loved the fact that I was using up materials on hand rather than purchasing new.
In the end, though, the failures outweighed all of the good things. The papers I’d used as the surface rippled and buckled. I tried every trick I know (and I know a lot of them!) to get them to smooth out, all to no avail. The matte varnish that I employed to unify the surface sheen turned out to have a serious shine – closer to high gloss – that only served to magnify other flaws in the surface.
I had ordered custom-cut mats for this series, along with backing boards and cellophane sleeves. With rising disappointment, I went through the images one by one. Was I being too critical? Might the flaws disappear when they were mounted for display? I picked out the best, only seven passed muster, and fitted them in mats. Nope, that wasn’t better. I couldn’t convince myself. Sometimes, the best thing to do is just move on.
What I can sometimes do is use portions of unsuccessful works in new collages. That is not going to work in this case; I’m afraid the uneven, too shiny surface would only get in the way of future success. What I will do is start another series in the same size, so that I can use the same display materials. I’ll choose a sturdier surface, based on my experience. I’ve already ordered a product to replace that shiny varnish. And I’ll count what I’ve learned as the best thing I’ll gain from that whole fiasco!
“Today I’m flying low and I’m not saying a word. I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep. The world goes on as it must, the bees in the garden rumbling a little, the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten. And so forth. But I’m taking the day off. Quiet as a feather. I hardly move though really I’m traveling a terrific distance. Stillness. One of the doors into the temple.”
I was doing fine, really. Covid-19 entered our world, our consciousness, our news cycles, and we were all affected. Sadness, loss and fear became a daily, always escalating theme. Through all this craziness, that seems to have thrown the whole world into a tailspin, I was okay.
In February, when the virus was just beginning to make the news, my sisters and I took a planned trip to Florida. In March, when it was making bigger news, my daughter Jen and I, after thoughtful discussion and much weighing of options, decided to push forward with our plans to visit my daughter Kate in Hawaii. We listened to warnings and advice, took added precautions, and warily made the trip.
By the end of our first week there, the virus had taken off, closing down travel and businesses throughout the state, and the country. We kept a close watch on the numbers in all of the states. Just like everyone else, we were horrified at the mounting death toll, and fearful of the future. As one scheduled flight after another was delayed, then cancelled, we kept in touch with family members, work associates, and the lovely people who were taking care of my dogs.
Still, I more than once said, “If we have to be stuck, what a wonderful situation to be stranded in: surrounded by family…in Hawaii!” With my normal routine disrupted by the enforced, extended vacation, I expanded the time I spent writing and drawing. I continued my little exercise routines. I read a lot.
Time spent at the house was lovely. Mornings, Jen and I sat on the porch, drinking coffee, chatting and reading books. Chickens were always close by, and three little Kona pigs often stopped in. One of my daughters or grandchildren would sometimes accompany me on my walks.
Excursions were extra special for their scarcity. One morning Kate, Jen and I walked on the lava cliffs at the shoreline. One night, my son-in-law, Jeremy, took me up into the foothills to look at the stars. On our last day there, we gathered lava rocks and bits of coral from a beautiful, deserted beach while watching the waves crash against the shore.
Getting home was scary, with stops in Los Angeles and Detroit. Again, we were thoughtful and careful, taking every precaution throughout the trip. The trip from Lansing to my home on Beaver Island was a new adventure, too. I have become hyper-aware of every encounter, whether with humans or door handles. A simple pause at a rest stop was a mask-wearing, disinfecting-wipe-wielding, hand-sanitizer-using challenge!
Finally home, I had two weeks of self-isolation that I spent loving on my dogs and re-acclimating myself to the not-so-perfect weather. I think leaving Hawaii’s near perfect climate would always require adjustment…but snow?! Really! Still, I kept my good habits, and enjoyed my time alone.
After that time, I did not go back to work. Though my position in the hardware store is considered “essential,” I am of an age that falls into a high-risk group. In addition, my boss had to keep the store staffed while I was stuck on vacation, so hired new employees. Business has been slow. While I was away, several things broke down, and it sounds like for some reason I am considered at fault for not letting the boss know (I know, right?).
In any case, at least for the time being, I don’t appear to have a job. Worrisome, yes, but unemployment benefits will keep me going for a while. I have on-going projects in the studio, and many others in the planning stages. It’s spring, so there is plenty to keep me busy in the yard and garden. I called to offer my volunteer services at local non-profit. I still have my daily “meditate-write-study-draw-yoga-walk-read” routine to give substance to my days.
So, I was doing fine. Until, with no warning at all, I wasn’t. I lost a filling, and getting in to see a dentist has proved challenging. My ex-husband’s aunt died. I broke the handle that turns on the water to my shower. The replacement I bought for it was missing a set screw. I learned that an old friend, my age, has been put into hospice care. My tomato plants didn’t come. Big things and small, they all played on my emotions.
After having just explained to a friend how I had conquered my insomnia by getting up at a set – early – time each day, I spent an entire night tossing and turning. That was the final straw. Yesterday, I woke up discouraged and depressed.
I was fearful of the future, worried about finances, and troubled about my work situation. I was distressed by the bitterness and animosity that is running rampant on social media, disheartened by a thoughtless comment made by a political candidate (does he not realize how important this is??), and sad for the state of the whole world.
I let myself be miserable. I not only allowed it, I wallowed in it. I skipped over or abbreviated every element of my morning routine. I ignored my to-do list. I took a long afternoon nap. I watched mindless shows on Netflix. I went to bed early.
Today, I’m better. It turns out it wasn’t the early signs of a big down-turn It’s not a path I’m staying on. It was just a few bumps in the road.
Dogs can’t tell time, and that’s often a comfort to me. .
When I dropped my dogs off at the kennel in March, I intended to be back in ten days. I gave each of them loving pats and hugs, and assured them that I’d be home soon. My planned one-week-in Hawaii vacation became complicated, however, by lock-downs and restrictions due to Covid-19. It was a full month before I made it home. I had missed the dogs terribly, and knew they’d be happy to see me, too. My mind was eased, though, knowing that they didn’t really register how long I’d been away.
Sometimes it seems like dogs can tell time. One of my sisters keeps an eye on her dogs remotely with a “nanny-cam.” Sure enough, when it’s just about time for her husband to pull into the driveway, they rouse themselves and move toward the door. My dogs know when they should get their dinner, and if anything keeps me from noticing the time, they are quick to remind me. Likewise, when it gets close to ten o’clock at night, they know it’s bedtime.
Work used to keep me away from home for long stretches each day. I’d remind myself that my house-bound companions couldn’t really tell if I was away for four hours, or six, or eight. They would generally just sleep until they heard my car. Rosa Parks, who is getting hard of hearing, would often still be sleeping when I walked in the door.
Now, in these crazy, scary circumstances, I’m home almost all the time. The dogs come with me when I walk. They crowd into the bathroom with me when I get into the shower. They follow me upstairs if I go to work in the studio. When I do leave home, to pick up groceries or the mail, it’s just a quick trip. Sometimes, I just sneak out to put compost in the bin while the dogs are napping.
When I come back through the door, though, whether I’ve been gone ten minutes or two hours, I’m greeted with enthusiasm. They come to meet me with kisses and wagging tails, as if I’d been away a month. Fortunately, dogs can’t tell time!
Hasn’t life changed?! Pretty amazing, really. Tragic, yes. Scary, of course. This is new…different…unknowable. We have no idea what will happen next. Though there is lots of speculation, none of us can really see how this is going to pan out. Which is what makes it all so frightening…and amazing.
There have been few occurrences in my long life that I knew – as they happened – how important they were in the large scheme of things. Things that would change everything. There was the first man in space; the moon landing; the dismantling of the Berlin Wall; and the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Most, though, have been associated with tragedy: assassinations; shootings; wars; terrorist attacks. And now this. Covid-19.
In the big world, people seem to be taking sides, and forming camps, as if we were fighting Nazis rather than a virus. I don’t think anyone is actually taking the side of the illness, but there are certainly those that think it is blown out of proportion, or an all-out hoax.
Life versus the economy seems to be one thread. Each political party seems able to find members of the opposing party that they can accuse of making money from the situation. People who protect themselves with masks and gloves are mad at those who don’t. The ones that don’t seem to think it’s an unreasonable imposition. Who has the right, after all, to try to control the spread of disease?
It’s all too much. I watch the news; I keep an eye on the reports. I suit up responsibly whenever I have to go to town, and I don’t go to town more than is absolutely necessary. Mostly, I stay home.
From the safety of my little house off the Fox Lake Road, I notice, with fascination, how my own life has changed. I still get up early, even when there’s no place I have to be. I don’t set an alarm, though I may start. On days when I sleep later, I feel behind all day. I’m happy to have a routine, and I stick with it.
In my life at home, casual comfort is key. If I switch from slippers to shoes, the dogs know it’s time for a walk. I never wore much make-up, but it’s completely out now. Who would know? Even on trips to town, my face is covered. Moving through the day, I go from pajamas to sweats and back to pajamas. Yesterday, running out to pick up a prescription, I had to remind myself to put on real pants.
I’m happy to report that I am finding time to do many of the things that I always said I would “if I only had the time.” I write every day; I draw every day. I get two good walks in, and other exercise besides. I spend time in the studio almost every day. I’ve taken two on-line courses. Always a fan of self-help books, I now give them, one by one, my full attention. I take notes, highlight passages, mark pages for review, and actually put what I learn into practice!
In other areas, more time does not seem to make a difference. My housekeeping leaves a lot of room for improvement. I still have a long list of projects to tackle. I’ve managed to avoid yard work, even on the warm days.
And, when the world is smaller, little things take on greater importance. I almost cried when I over-cooked a meat loaf last week. When my little tablet quit working, I thought I’d have a nervous breakdown! It has both Kindle and Audible on it, with several books I’m loving right now. My daughters both tried to help, and Kate managed to figure out the problem, long distance. Before I fell apart.
Telephone calls make me unreasonably happy, now in my isolation, and I’ve become more chatty than ever before. I think my cousin, Bob, and I, in two long, recent phone conversations, have spoken more words to each other than we have in the last year!
So, some improvements, some stagnation, some sadness and some joy in my life, in the middle of this world-wide crisis. Like everyone, I’m concerned. For the most part, though, I’m okay. Just as long as I remember to put on the pants!
Today is the last day of April. Outside, it’s still overcast, rainy and cold.
Today is the last day of the April A~Z challenge. Though I started late, I made it through the alphabet, twenty-six blog posts in a row. In my gratitude journal this morning, I wrote that I’m grateful to be at the end of this daily writing commitment. After a few weeks without a break, I feel like I’ve run out of interesting things to write about, and those last few letters, V, W, X, Y and Z, are always difficult.
I have meandered through these last few weeks, but it’s time to get serious. This is spring! It’s time to get busy! There are a dozen tasks right here in this room that could use my attention. Outside, there are a hundred more. The studio waits for me, with works in progress, and ideas to explore. It’s time – way past time, in fact – to get cracking on that diet and exercise program I laid out in January. Spring! Zoom, zoom, zoom!
Not today, though. Today, I’m going easy on myself. I’m midway through a good book; I may curl up in my comfortable chair and finish it, my “To-Do” list be damned!