Category Archives: Art

What is the opposite of Thanksgiving?

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My friend Kathy, who writes from the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, shared these wise thoughts a few years ago. I think they’re well worth sharing again.

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Perhaps we all know what Thanksgiving is.  We know what it feels like.  Underneath all our turkey and stuffing, we know that Thanksgiving feels like gratitude, appreciation and love.  It smells like pumpkin pie mixed with joy.  It tastes like mashed potatoes whipped with the heart’s fairest harvest.  It is the giving of the feast of compassion, the giving of our deepest gifts.

But what is the opposite of Thanksgiving?

Could it be the way we steer through our days on auto-pilot, concerned only about getting things done?  Concerned primarily about connecting the dots between A and B?  Could the opposite of Thanksgiving be our busy lives, our focused doing, our physical robotic movements?

Could the opposite of Thanksgiving be our forgetting to be grateful?  Our forgetting to marvel at the small gifts which life presents, moment after moment, hour after hour, day after day?  Could it be a sin…

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Yesterday…Today

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Today is one of those misty days that makes the landscape appear hazy.  Everything looks as if it’s shrouded in gauze. Everything feels damp. Even the air is moist. A quick walk around the yard through the melting snow, and my feet are soaked. I slide out of wet shoes, and put them near the heater to dry. I peel off the heavy, cold and dripping socks, and replace them with thick, soft, warm ones. This is a day to have a pot of soup on the stove…a loaf of bread rising on the table.

Yesterday…did I even make it outside? Maybe, briefly. I didn’t pay much attention to the weather then, or the many times I opened the door to let the dogs inside or outside. I tackled a few chores, but left a list of things undone, too. Yesterday, I got the idea to make slippers…like the slippers I used to make for my husband and daughters when my family was young…for Christmas gifts. Everything else went by the wayside.

First I pulled down the basket of yarn from the top shelf, where it has sat, neglected, for weeks. My last project was a giant sock to fit over one unfortunate grandson’s cast. Before that…I can’t remember. It was maybe a year or more since I’d crocheted.

As a young mother, I crocheted every day. Out of each week’s grocery budget, I’d buy one skein of yarn: a different color every week. All of my projects were improvisations, based on the yarn I had on hand. I made hats and scarves, slippers and ponchos. I made piles of granny squares to be fitted together into afghans. I made stuffed animals and puppets. I plotted needlepoint designs to use up all the bits and scraps of yarn. For every single finished project, I always had a dozen that I’d abandoned half-way through.

Yesterday, after assessing the available yarn, I decided the slippers would – out of necessity – be not quite identical. I used two strands of yarn: one four-ply, one two-ply, and when I ran out of one, I attached another. I finished two pair of slippers, and started a third, while watching about four hours of programs on my computer. I drank coffee until I’d emptied the pot, then water, then wine. It was a lovely, self-indulgent day. I don’t dare repeat it!

Today, I have to get busy! I have to complete the tasks that should have been done yesterday, plus all the ones on the list for today. I have cards to write, and phone calls to make. There are rugs to shake and floors to sweep, and laundry to be put through the circuit. I have a collection of staple foods still sitting on the kitchen counter, where they’ve been since I emptied the old cabinet that housed them…to make room for the freezer. There is compost to be taken out to the bin near the garden, and recyclables to be loaded in the car.

If I get to the point where I can say “enough, this will do,” with the housework, the garden still needs to be put to bed for the winter. The long hose needs to be picked up, rolled, and hung in the garden shed. Vines – from beans, peas, squash and tomatoes -need to be pulled up and disposed of. I have to, then, cover any open spaces with straw, to keep the weeds from taking over. There is at least one shovel and a three-pronged cultivator still standing out in the weather.

If I happen to manage to get all of that done, I have a back-up list. It includes things like re-arranging and repairing the kitchen cabinets, painting the floor, and cleaning the car. And now, of course, there are slippers to work on, when there is time. And the studio, always, with projects and plans awaiting. It’s unlikely that, on this day,  I’ll have time for any of that. Especially since – first on my list – I have to get that bread dough started…and get vegetables cut up for the soup!

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Not the Day I Expected…Part 3

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Wednesday, I’d gone to town for coffee, banking and garbage drop-off. I arrived back home just before noon, and was pleased to see that the power was back on. I reset the clocks, made a pot of coffee, and started in on the kitchen.

The next three hours was a flurry of dusting and scrubbing, moving and arranging. Some things were almost done, and just needed finishing touches; others were jobs that had to be started at the very beginning. Files were moved to the dining room. Kitchen shelves were reconfigured and every dust-free book, basket and jar was replaced nicely on them.

The refrigerator was completely cleared: magnets, posters and photos from the metal doors; baskets, bins and boxes from the top; foodstuffs, shelves and bins from inside. I scoured it, then, outside and in. I washed each shelf and all three bins. I stood them on the rug, leaned against the cupboards to drip dry.

I poured a cup of coffee, sat down at the computer and turned it on. A warning window popped up on the screen; the controls didn’t work. “Your computer has been compromised,” the message said, “Call Microsoft for assistance in repairing this problem.” A toll-free number followed. “Damn it! I should have paid attention to all those other messages telling me to upgrade my system,” I thought, as I dialed the number.

What followed was a lengthy interaction between me and a technician. He had me open an internet sharing window that allowed him access. He showed me lines and lines of the many harmful things that were in my system. “It’s pretty serious,” he told me. he asked about the age of the computer, what virus protection it has, and whether the warranty was still valid. He quoted a price ($299.99), then explained that there would be an additional charge of $99.99 because my warranty was no longer good.

I wailed; I whined; I told him I was just starting to make progress on getting my credit cards paid down. He said, “Look, lady, you called me!” Finally, I agreed to the amount, and gave him my credit card information. He told me to leave my computer on, that the other technician would be working on it for about an hour, to remove the viruses, scrub the system and set up protection. I would get a call when they were finished.

I went back to my housekeeping while waiting for the call, grumbling about how impossible it is to get ahead. The second call came in; I sat back down at the computer. The technician – a young woman, this time – used lines and arrows to show me the security features she had added. She showed me the location of their toll-free number, should I need further assistance. She said, “Your credit card will be charged four hundred dollars.”

“No way,” I said, and seem to recall that caused her to gasp, “what I agreed to was two charges that would total three hundred ninety-nine dollars and ninety-eight cents.”

“Of course, you’re right,” she said, “I was just rounding up.”

I was feeling pretty bleak…and considerably poorer…though still proud of myself for catching that two-cent error…by the time I got back to the kitchen. The phone rang again. This time, it was a woman from the electric company. I thought, at first, that she was calling to apologize for the recent electrical outage. No, she was collecting data for a survey. She didn’t ask if I had time, or would care to participate, but just started firing off questions. I was balancing the telephone between my ear and my shoulder, while trying to reassemble the refrigerator. Juggling shelves and bins while trying to keep the phone from sliding away, my answers were peppered with curses and protests.

“How much longer??” I demanded at one point. “If you quit complaining and just answer the questions, about two minutes,” was her sharp rebuke. Such was my state of mind that day, that I meekly followed orders: I quit complaining, and answered the questions.

Hours later, discouraged, dejected and depressed…but with a sparkling clean kitchen…I sat down to dinner. The telephone rang. I almost didn’t answer it. I didn’t feel like talking to anyone; the phone had not been my friend that day. I picked it up, just before the answering machine kicked in.

My friend Linda! A friendly voice, at the end of a rough day. I started to tell her about the rotten day I’d had, from the power outage and lack of coffee to the old man’s toenail clippings to the awful telephone calls. When I got to the part about the pop-up warning with the number to call and the high cost of repair, she immediately said, “Oh, Cindy, that’s a scam!”

As soon as she said it, I knew that she was right. How would Microsoft know I had a virus? Why would I consider paying nearly four hundred dollars to fix it, when I could practically get a whole new computer for that price? How very stupid I had been! Then, I started thinking about the consequences: they had my credit card numbers! What had they been doing in my computer…and what did they actually download onto it?

“I gotta go,” I said, near tears, “I’ve got to figure this out.”

In the days since that happened, I’ve had several conversations with my credit card company. I’ve cut up my card, and will be issued a new one. I’ve been struggling to remove everything that was added to my system that day, and have been very cautious about using the computer at all. I’ve changed passwords and security measures. I have cried in utter humiliation. I have chastised myself constantly for my foolishness.

Today is my Dad’s birthday. Because of that, I’ve spent some time imagining how this whole episode would have gone over with him, if he were still alive. Dad was often unpredictable in his response. It’s hard to guess if he would be angry for me…or angry at me. I can guarantee, there would be a lot of “goddamn”s involved.

I can picture Dad going on a rant about the “goddamn scammers” who would take advantage of my ignorance. He might rail on about the “goddamn computers” which have made such things possible, and completely changed the world as he knew it. He might have even gone after the “goddamn telephone,” which he never was comfortable with.

I like to think, though – because Dad could be light-hearted, too – that he’d be impressed with my ability to tell the story, and that he’d see a bit of humor along with the tragedy of it. I can picture him wagging his head from side to side, with a look of both sympathy and understanding. I can clearly see his mischievous grin as he speaks: “Cindy…how the hell did you get to be so goddamned STUPID??”

Empathy versus Apology

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It’s still okay, it seems, when confronted with a death, to say, “I’m so sorry.” The usual response is as expected: a somber nod, a murmured “Thank you.”

In my experience, that’s no longer the case in most other circumstances. Someone tells me of a minor frustration, a bad experience or a maddening encounter. I say, “I’m sorry that happened to you,” or “I’m sorry you’re having such a rough hour [week/year/go of it]” or simply, “I’m so sorry.”

That, too often, causes a look ranging from mild surprise to incredulity to irritation, and one of several responses:

“Well, it’s not your fault!”

You didn’t do it.”

“I wasn’t blaming you!”

I realize that.

I was not apologizing; I was empathizing. I know I wasn’t the cause of your pain, frustration or anger; I am not blaming myself. Likely, I have been in your situation, or one very similar, and I understand how you feel. I am sorry you’re going through it. Empathy, not apology. It’s the difference between “I’m sorry you’re having car trouble” and “I’m sorry I wrecked your car.”

“I’m sorry you’re having a hard day” = empathy.

“I’m sorry for giving you such a hard time” = apology.

Do I need to be clearer? Is “I’m sorry” not enough? Do I look guilty? What would make a person think I am blaming myself? When I approach someone who has had a death in the family, and say, “I’m sorry,” it has never been countered with, “Why? You didn’t kill him!” Have we forgotten about how to express shared feelings?

Maybe, from now on, I’ll try something different. If someone tells me of a minor frustration, a bad experience or a maddening encounter, this will be my response:

“Bummer!”

 

In the Middle of the Night…

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A month ago. when I woke up in the night, it was with a sense of dread, and near panic. Forefront in my mind were the one hundred things I had yet to do, at least half of which I was behind on. Deadlines loomed. Mistakes and missteps haunted my thoughts. There were always money worries. My household bills were behind because I was using my personal income to make ends meet for my  business.

I was often driven out of bed by obligations to be met, a budget to review, or jobs to be done that my schedule didn’t allow for. I would sit at the computer, then, trying to write an article covering an event that I had been unable to attend because I was at my other job. Or, I would once again cover the dining room table with paperwork, trying to figure out what I was missing, that there was no profit here. There were many nights of too little sleep.

Days were spent juggling my job at the hardware, a couple other side jobs, the duties and obligations associated with my business, and everything else necessary to keeping a life running smoothly. That was my life for the two-and-a-half years that I held the position of owner and editor of the Beaver Beacon news-magazine.

When I took on that job, it seemed like a good idea. I have many long years of study, and college degrees I have barely used. I’ve spent most of my adult life working at menial labor in customer-service positions. That’s something I am really good at; that is grtifying all by itself. It has also allowed me to live on Beaver Island, which I love. It has provided me with enough income to support myself, and the freedom to pursue my artistic calling. Still, at times, I’ve felt that I’ve sold myself short. So, over the years, I’ve occasionally applied for or taken on other positions that seemed to better suit my qualifications. The Beacon was one of them.

Almost immediately, I realized it was a mistake. I was overwhelmed, incapable of giving it the time it deserved, unable to fix the things that were going wrong.  I spent about two years trying to find someone willing and able to take over. I contemplated other options, none of which were good…for me, personally, or for the long-standing place the Beaver Beacon has held in this community.

When everything seemed hopeless, someone came forward. After several discussions, many questions answered, and papers signed, Steve and Elaine West, who have successfully managed to put out the Northern Islander for more than a decade here on Beaver Island, have added the Beacon to their repertoire. They have good ideas and exciting changes planned. I can’t wait to see how the whole thing evolves under their guidance. I’m looking forward to contributing an article now and then…when it’s not a crucial deadline that keeps me from sleep!

Now, when I wake up in the middle of the night, I smile. Sometimes I get up to let a dog outside. I may, if the weather is mild, step out onto the porch to look up at the stars, or to see what stage the moon is at in the night sky. Other times I just lay there in the darkness, appreciating the calm, and the warmth of the little dog sleeping at my feet. Sometimes I stretch, roll over, and go back to sleep. This is the way I want to always spend my nights!

 

Summer’s Last Sigh

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Though I’ve been enjoying having the windows open to the fresh, cool September breezes, I got up night before last to close every one. It was cold! “Frost,” I thought, and spent a good time before falling back asleep assessing the losses. I should have anticipated this, I thought, and at least covered the tomatoes. But I was wrong.

Yesterday morning was definitely chilly, but there was no sign of frost. Summer is still underway. The garden is still plugging away, with beans growing and tomatoes ripening. That huge pumpkin plant (with not a single pumpkin on it that I can see) is continuing to spread its vines all over the back fence. The grass is still growing, and still needing to be mowed (and I am – still – stuck with a mower that won’t start). The berry brambles – though showing their fall colors – are still producing fruit.

Though I had – as always – my long list of things I wanted to accomplish on my Monday, the cold air gave me reason to set it aside. How many more good days of summer will there be? And won’t I miss them when they’re gone! Better to take advantage, when I can. The dogs were happy for the change of plans.

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With camera, gathering bowl, and a big lidded cup filled with coffee, we went by car to the drive that leads into my Grandpa’s wood lot. My cousin has mowed wide paths through the clearing that make it easy to get to the blackberries that grow wild there. It seems like the plants were aware, too, of the short time left in this growing season: the vines were the fullest I’ve seen, with ripe berries. I easily filled my bowl.

Next, on to Fox Lake, where the dogs rewarded me with wag-tail enthusiasm when they realized the day’s adventures were not yet done. There was still a chill breeze, but the sun was bright and the sky was clear. With no book or journal to take my attention, it was just me, the dogs, and the view. I sat right down in the sand. It was a perfect way to spend one of the last days of summer.

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Timeout for Art: Adjustments

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I spent some time last week kind of giddily shredding and weaving painted papers together. I then followed up by mounting the woven papers on to painted supports. This week, the – less-fun-but-more-important – item on the agenda was to work at pulling it all together.

I want to preserve the colors of the woven papers as well as the painted backgrounds. I do not want it to appear that two totally disparate elements have been mushed together. I want there to be some chemistry there, between the background and foreground. Maybe that means down-playing or subverting the weaving, so that the background pops. Maybe it’s in subduing the background to let the woven papers take center stage. I think the answer lies in some combination that will allow both to show to their best advantage.

One idea was to add an additional layer of pattern over the entire surface, to make both other elements seem secondary to the whole. Another was to darken the edges of the woven papers, and the background around them. That’s the idea I tried, by rubbing paint selectively around the woven panels. So far, it’s all just an exploration or possible solutions. Nothing wondrous yet.