Category Archives: writing

Honesty

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Honesty is one of those concepts that hides a dark side. Of course, honesty is a virtue. It’s a valued characteristic in friends and associates. We all like to be considered honest; we strive for honesty in most areas of our lives. We begin sentences with, “Honestly….” to add a bit more credibility to whatever comes after.

A lack of honesty is an often-named character flaw that carries a great deal of weight. If someone is not trustworthy, they are not a good candidate for friend, spouse or employee. When you hear, “I don’t think they can be trusted,” even if it’s just a feeling or an intuition not based on actual behavior, all kinds warning bells go off. We never want to get too close to a dishonest person.

Still, we all know someone who is “a little too honest.” Usually that refers to someone who will not pretend to like your new haircut, or your fashion choices. Sometimes, it refers to an unwillingness or inability to soften the edges of their viewpoints for the sake of amiable conversation. Sometimes it is simply a comment on their bluntness. That’s because, though we revere honesty, most of us partake in a good dose of dishonesty as well.

I know that I do. “My pleasure,” I’ll say in response to a thank you for any number of difficult and unpleasant tasks I perform at the hardware store. “No problem,” is my answer to most apologies, though sometimes the inconvenience was great. “Beautiful,” I have offered, to color choices or design solutions that would certainly not be my own.

These are small indiscretions, and I excuse myself for them. Cutting and threading pipe, for instance, is not a pleasure, in any sense, but I do enjoy some aspects. There is reward in doing my job, satisfaction in being able to accomplish a specific task, and true pleasure in being able to help a customer. Being kept waiting, or being pushed or bumped or stepped on is not nothing, but when it’s not purposeful, and followed by “so sorry,” it really does seem inconsequential. And, is it really dishonest to appreciate someone else’s choices, simply because they would not be my own? I don’t think so.

My greatest dishonesty comes in a different form. I am notorious for “selective sharing.” Though I write about myself and my life on a regular basis, and often post photos on social media, you shouldn’t get the feeling that you know me too well. I’m pretty good at showing the good parts, and hiding the things that I don’t like. I can zoom in on a photograph, to show off an area of garden, without a single weed in sight. I can post a picture of a prepared meal, without showing the stack of mail that is sharing the table with it. While allowing viewers to assume that I will sit at the table to eat, rather than at the desk, in front of the computer, watching gossipy videos.

My daughter is coming for a visit tomorrow, with her son, and a couple friends that I haven’t met before. Today, I’m cleaning house. I’m washing sheets, sweeping floors, and polishing sinks. I’m clearing small collections of dead bugs out of the light fixtures. I’m doing tasks that have been neglected for so long, they aren’t even a part of my weekly cleaning routine. Honestly, I don’t even have a weekly cleaning routine. My goal is to welcome them into a sparkling clean house, and to greet them with, “please excuse the mess…” That’s just how dishonest I am!

Timeout for Art: Not Making Art

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There’s been lots of activity in my world here on Beaver Island. Last week, my family was here; four sisters with three of their partners; four nieces with their families; and a few cousins just to round out the numbers. There were days at the beach for swimming and playing, trips to explore the island, and evenings at the beach for sunset. There were puzzles and games keeping us up until all hours of the night, and shared meals gathered around big tables. It was wonderful!

It didn’t, however, leave much time for other things. I neglected my home, garden and yard. My dogs became accustomed to – though not happy with – my erratic coming and goings. I struggled through shifts at work, with little sleep and no energy. I didn’t write. I never stepped foot in the studio.

Then, there’s the “catching up.” Mowing lawn and weeding garden and flower beds compete for my time. Showering my dogs with love and attention is also at the top of my list. Then there’s laundry. Housework. And, I admit, nap-time. Then back to my outside-of-the-home jobs. Which, especially at this time of year, can be exhausting, leaving little energy for anything else.

Though I’ve had no time or energy for making art, I’ve been busy at tasks related to studio work. There’s always something to do! Last week, I switched out the mats and frames of collages for a couple who have been good customers and loyal supporters of my work. I framed new work for an upcoming show, and put wire hangers on the backs of some others.

While working outside, I deadheaded my daylilies and bagged the spent blooms. Added to my collection of leaves and petals in the freezer, they’ll be there when I need them for papermaking. Yesterday, I delivered my work to the building where the Museum Week Art Show will take place, then filled out the paperwork and paid my fees. Last night, I cut to size, dampened and wrapped printmaking papers, so that they will be ready to print on this evening. That will be the first actual art work I’ve done in weeks! Often, though art-related activities take up much of my time, there is no art-making going on!

Happy Day!

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Today, I’m good.

I slept well, and woke up feeling rested, strong, and ready for the day.

I’ve lost about ten pounds so far this year. I notice it a little bit in my face, and I have a few pair of pants that now need a belt, but mostly I look about the same. Still, it feels like a good accomplishment.

The dogs seem content. Though they each have health issues, this has been a good week for them.

I’ve got several good books going. I’m reading That Sounds Fun by Annie F. Downs, Everything is Figure-outable by Marie Forleo and Indelible by Laurie Buchanan. For my morning study time, I’m reading The Power of Daily Practice by Eric Maisel, PhD. For my evening walks, I’m listening to Eternal by Lisa Scottoline.

I’ve just completed filling every page in my sketchbook with drawings, and I’m ready to start another.

My bush beans have finally poked through the ground in the garden. The peas are up, too. The pumpkin is looking quite impressive. After a traumatic start, I think my tomatoes are all going to make it. The pole beans have just started to climb their tepees.

I had a couple really productive days outside last week. I moved a rhododendron plant to make room for several daylilies that I had to thin and move from another bed, to make room for two Gold Drop Potentilla that I bought on sale. I think the bushes will stand up better to my big dog’s thrashing through the flower beds looking for snakes. The daylilies seem to have handled the mid-season transplant just fine. In fact, I swear they seem a little relieved to be out of the big dog’s path of destruction! My hollyhocks are up, taller than me, and loaded with buds, just outside the kitchen door.

I crawled around on hands and knees pulling weeds. Nothing new, except that I can actually see the progress I’ve made. I moved the last of my straw to the garden, to mulch the tomatoes and squash. I picked up a bunch of windfall and a dozen dog toys. I mowed the back yard and, oh, it looks nice!

I met a few friends and cousins after work for a drink on Friday. On Saturday, I ran into a couple other cousins, and had a good chat over coffee. Then I ran to the gallery for a wonderful conversation with another cousin, who shared the news that my work is selling well this year. And even better, reported that she’s getting good feedback about it, too.

Today, before work, I’m going to stop in at the farmhouse to say good-bye to my cousin, Keith, as I won’t be able to be in town to see him off. I’ll be working at the golf course, then, for the rest of the day. After today, though, I have three days off. Oh yeah, plus…the boat that will be coming in to the harbor and carrying Keith away…will be delivering my sisters to the island!!! Oh, Happy Day!!

Timeout for Art: One Thing to Another

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I’ve been making art for a long time. And, I’m a “saver.” Together, those things result in a good deal of accumulation. Then, with changing sensibilities, a more discerning eye and limited storage space, I end up with a lot of rejects. Complicating the issue is the fact that I hate to throw anything away.

A sheet of handmade paper could be rippled, but still have redeeming qualities. A collagraph print might have poor registration, but still have beautiful color and texture. A drawing or painting that is not strong in composition can still have value as raw material. In my studio, technical failure rarely leads directly to the trashcan.

I have boxes, folders and envelopes full of used papers, waiting to be put into service again. Old drawings, covered with paint that partially obliterates the original subject matter, often become the basis for collage. I think the “pentimento” adds a welcome layer of interest. Handmade papers, as well as cut or torn bits from prints and paintings on paper, become collage materials.

I have been, for several years now, on a mission to recycle and use up every bit of scrap in my studio. It is a herculean task. Sometimes it seems like I generate more than I use, with every single project! Still, my efforts continue. I imagine large basket-like hanging forms, similar to the nests made by paper wasps, but with color and texture still visible, hinting at the past life of the materials they are made of. To that end, I’ve been experimenting with various basket-making techniques, mostly with little success.

Some good things, though, come from the most uncomplicated ideas. I have an on-going series that expands very basic weaving techniques. I think the strength of the finished pieces are in their graphic simplicity. The process is a little more complicated, however.

First, I go through my stacks of “rejects” to select pieces similar in weight, and with colors that work together. I trim the edges, cut them to size, and put them through the paper shredder. They have to be picked through, sorted, and spread out on the drafting table. Usually, I select one color for the vertical lines, and an assortment for the horizontal weave. Sometimes it’s all just based on random selection. I make more weavings than I will need,, so that I’ll have choices later.

Next, I prepare the surfaces that the weavings will be mounted on. I like the background to have its own interest, but I keep the nuances of color and texture subtle enough so that it will balance, not compete with, the graphic pattern. Eventually, the surface will be coated with a thick layer of polymer gel, and the woven grid will be set into that. After that has dried, I have my starting point.

From this point, the piece will dictate what else is needed. Sometimes that is easy, sometimes not. It may involve embellishments of ink, collage elements, or layers of paint. I am not above peeling, scraping and sanding the surface of a piece to get to the place where it is finished. When it reaches that point, it seems to announce “Done!” Or, as sometimes happens, “Ruined!” In which case, it joins the collection of failures waiting to be repurposed!

A Few Things About Peonies

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My Grandma Thelma used to grow peonies. She was my mother’s mother, and we lived next door. She had a large rectangular flower bed halfway between the road and our houses, in the front yard that we shared. In one far corner was a birdhouse, high up on top of a trellis that my Grandpa Ted had built. It looked kind of like four ladders leaning in toward each other. In the center of that trellis, a climbing rose grew. My mother told us that the rose’s thorns would keep snakes from stealing the bird’s eggs.

In the front corner of the flower bed, nearest to our house, peonies bloomed in the springtime. I’m sure I didn’t know what they were, as a small child, and the flower bed had been dismantled and mowed over long before I was old enough to ask. Rather, I recognize them from the peonies that bloom in my garden now. When my plants finally flowered, I remembered my grandmother’s peonies.

I’d actually had peonies for over ten years, and in two different locations, before I ever saw a blossom. I started with two plants, in another location on Beaver Island. They had been in the ground there for five years without ever so much as a bud, so I moved them down to this house with me, even though I know they prefer to not be moved. Here, they had a plenty of time to get used to their new location, and still they refused to flower.

When the hardware store started carrying plants in the spring, I bought two more peonies. These had buds already formed on the ends of branches, so I figured that at least I’d have a few flowers. I expanded the bed to accommodate two more peony plants. That year, and for every year since, all four plants have bloomed! And what flowers! The big, exuberant blooms are almost too much. They seem like caricatures of flowers, too big and heavily scented and full, extreme in every way, to be real. After a rain, the blossoms become so heavy, they bend to the ground.

Ants seem to love the peonies. Some years they are just covered with them. Folklore suggests that they are necessary to open the buds, but I don’t believe it. I think the ants are there for the sweetness. This year, ants are scarce, but beetles have moved in. After a little research, I determined that they are likely rose chafers. Because I rarely use poisons on any plants, and never on flowers, I’ve been reduced to picking them off. I drop them, then, into a container of water mixed with dish soap. Morning and evening, a hundred or more each time. I started with a small sauce dish, but have graduated to a gallon-sized bucket. It’s practically a full-time job!

I love having bouquets in the house. Usually, they are made up of wildflowers. Though I grow lots of flowers, I don’t have a “cutting garden,” so stealing blooms from my flower beds has to be very selective, or the beds end up looking derelict. That’s not the case with my peonies, though. First of all, they produce a lot of blooms. I can easily make several bouquets, and still have many blossoms on the plants. Secondly, when the branches are so heavy with blooms that they are being weighted down, it seems almost necessary to snip off a few of the heavy flowers. And finally, when the beetles seem so intent on destroying every flower, I’ll happily rescue them!

Here I Am

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I’ve been neglectful of my writing for a couple weeks now. The first one I missed – a “Timeout for Art” blog – was easy to skip over. It hasn’t been that long since I re-started an art-centered blog, and I’ve already missed a few times. The other one, my Sunday blog, has been a pretty regular habit for a while now. I don’t like abandoning my commitments, and it didn’t feel right to skip my weekly post. Then another whole week went by, with nothing. And then another. No art blog; no Sunday blog. By that time, the “gremlins” moved in.

These questions ran through my mind:

“Has anyone even noticed?”

“Does anybody even read what I write anymore?”

“Do I even have anything new to say?”

“What difference does it make?”

“Who cares?”

These thoughts were accompanied by all the usual justifications and excuses:

“I’m too busy!”

“I have too many other obligations!”

“There isn’t enough time!”

And these were followed by self-criticism:

“I’m a quitter.”

“I never follow through.”

“Lazy bum.”

It’s quite the worm hole I travel down, when I neglect things. I’ve had similar conversations in my head over not getting my daily walk in, or letting the recyclables pile up.

When I first started this blog, almost nine years ago, I wrote “when the spirit moved me,” usually two or three times a week. It was a way to pay attention to life as it was going on around me, and a bit of self-discipline that, I thought, couldn’t hurt. Then, my friend Lisa and I agreed to share our artwork and methods in a weekly “Timeout for Art” blog. Lisa was much more dependable than me, and I gave it up before long. Often, I participated in the “April A to Z Challenge,” posting a blog every day except Sunday for the month. Once, I took on a more extreme challenge, and posted a blog every single day of the year!

Eventually, I settled on a couple regular weekly posts, on days that coordinated with my work schedule. Recently, feeling a little overwhelmed by other tasks and obligations and, honestly, by a real concern that I have pretty much already said everything I have to say, I cut back to one blog per week, on Sunday. Then I reintroduced Timeout for Art, on Wednesdays. Though I sometimes scrambled for writing material, I had settled into a habit. Then, three weeks ago, in the middle of all the craziness that spring brings to my life, that habit fell apart.

But, I missed this outlet. Whether or not anyone cares, or reads it, this is different from the private ramblings in my journal. I need to consider that others may see what I write, so I have to keep my ranting in check. I have to think about grammar, punctuation, and spelling. And, the reasons that drove me to start a blog in the first place are still valid. So, here I am. Again.

Haunted

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It’s true what they say, that the older you get, the more familiar you become with loss.

I’ve grown accustomed to death.

First, there are the somewhat expected ones: grandparents and elderly family friends. Next, parents, godparents, aunts, uncles, and teachers. Then contemporaries, siblings and friends. Interspersed throughout are the tragic, unexpected and “too soon” deaths of the very young. As a child, dumbfounded by loss, I thought I’d never get used to it. Now, with age, it has become all too familiar.

If I were to place all the people I have known in my life in two columns, one for the living, and one for the dead, I’m sure that second list would outstrip the first one by a mile. Fortunately, my memory is not nearly good enough these days to even attempt it. It might make a slightly morbid but entertaining group exercise, sometime.

But I am not haunted by the dead.

My Dad, long removed from this earth, often accompanies me as I work in the garden. We keep a running dialogue going, in my head, as I make the furrows and plant the seeds. He offers bits of advise that I’ve heard many times before, and sometimes I get a brand new kernel of wisdom from him. He hasn’t softened much, in his opinions. Flowers are still “Nonsense! A waste of time and garden space!” And “that damned quack grass” is still a mortal enemy. Still, it’s always a pleasure to have a chat with him.

Others visit me when I’m asleep. When my dreams are peopled with friends and dear ones who are no longer here, I wake up smiling. How nice to have had such a good conversation with my Mom! Or, there was Vince, such a comforting presence, talking fervently about local politics, and offering me tea. Grandpa Ted. Ernie Martin. Muggs Bass. My brother David. Being just as predictably maddening as he always was in life.

The difference is that, having experienced the loss of my brother David, having realized what a treasure he was, having spent much time missing him, and mourning him, in my dreams I now know better. No matter how annoying his behavior, I look at him with love. My precious little brother. I wish I’d seen it when he was alive: how special his own crazy personality was; how fleeting his life. It’s things like that that haunt me.

When I was much younger, I used to be haunted by moments when I looked foolish, or did something that embarrassed me. Now, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a single example; they all seem so trivial. But I remember times when I could have easily been kind, but I was curt or short-tempered instead. As a parent, a sister, a daughter, a friend, I have fallen short. Why did I not listen better, show more appreciation, hug longer? It makes me cringe to think of so many incidents that I should have handled differently. Better. In some cases, the people are still here, so I can hope to turn it around, make up for it in some way. Too many are gone. When they visit my dreams, I try to do better.

Ground

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“Ground” is a perfect topic for this week, in this time of the year. I’ve been watching the ground for weeks!

I am constantly looking down; in the springtime, there is always something new to observe. First, I watch the steady regression of the snow cover, then I note the things that are revealed. The pale grass in my yard brightens with each spring day; rain intensifies the many shades of green. Under the trees at the edge of my driveway, wild ramps and trout lilies carpet the ground.

Walking down the Fox Lake Road, the view changes daily. Bright greens shoot up among fields of dull grasses. Ferns slowly uncurl their fronds. Brambles that just yesterday were bare, show bright buds at the ends of every branch. From areas where there was nothing of interest to see, suddenly a cluster of trilliums bloom. Always, especially after a rain, and just in case luck favors me, I watch for morels.

It’s not all new. Around my lawn, before I can mow the quickly growing grass, I pick up windfall shaken down by winter winds from several large trees, clothespins dropped and forgotten under the clothesline, and a dozen dog toys.

My big dog, Darla, loves to carry her toys outside. She’s choosy about which one gets to go out with her on any given day. If it’s muddy, she always seems to want the white lamb; the crazy chicken is her current favorite. No matter; she never brings them back inside. I pick them up, regularly, and bring them inside. There comes a time, though, when the day is too cold, or the snow is too deep, or I’m simply neglectful. The toys are abandoned outside, and buried under the snow. It’s an annual ritual, when the snow melts, to gather them up, wash them, and give them back to Darla. She greets them all like long-lost friends, and we begin again.

It’s not all good. The fenced-in space for my vegetable garden needs a lot of work. The light deer fence has come down along the whole south side, and is tangled in the milkweed, blackberry brambles and tall grasses that grows in the field there. Weeds have sprung up in the planting beds, and the mulch that marked the pathways has pretty much disappeared. The flower beds are covered in clumps of blown-in leaves, and choked in quack grass. That’s what forces me down to the ground.

I tackle the flower beds one at a time. I work on hands and knees. One by one, I roll away the rocks that form the border. I pull the grasses that have taken hold between the stones then, digging down with my bare hands, I follow the long white roots into the bed. I’ve never been able to get used to wearing garden gloves. I can’t feel anything through them – not the bulbs and corms I’m trying to save or the tangled roots I’m attempting to eradicate – so I sacrifice neat fingernails for the satisfaction of getting my hands in the earth.

It’s a slow process, and one that is continually interrupted by more pressing duties. Last week, I spent parts of three days getting the lawn mowed. Before the summer season gets underway, I have to tackle the vegetable garden, and get plants and seeds into the ground. Always, there are other jobs calling me away. Recently, the mosquitoes have hatched, and their fierce attack brings all outdoor work to a quick halt in the evening. Still, it’s satisfying to see the progress, and when I’m able, on almost any bright day, I’ll spend at least part of it on the ground.

Gratitude

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Ah, gratitude. I’ve written about this before. Often, and – I think – recently. So recently, that I’ve wondered if I should bypass this word, this time. But, I just recently finished my A to Z blog-writing challenge, and returned to my long list based on the Table of Contents in David Whyte’s book, Consolations. It’s too early to start changing the plan. So, gratitude.

I have, finally, thoroughly embraced a daily gratitude practice. I write, every single day, a list of things that I am thankful for. The habit alone makes me happy. I have, for most of my life, traveled through my days by the seat of my pants, ad-libbing everything from waking and sleeping times to whether the dishes would get done, or pile up in the sink. I’ve lately embraced habit as a way to make life easier.

I used to smoke. When I decided to quit that habit, about twenty or so years ago, it was really hard. In addition to the addiction, which is real, I had the habit of smoking, Now that I am a non-smoker, I don’t wonder, after a big meal or when I pick up the telephone, whether I should light a cigarette or not. It doesn’t even cross my mind. My life is easier as a non-smoker for many reasons, but one important one is that I don’t have those decisions to make all through the day.

Because I was giving up rather than adding a habit, it didn’t occur to me right away just how much habits make life easier. We all have daily habits that are such a natural part of our lives that we don’t even think about them. Forming a habit takes time. Some studies say two weeks; others suggest thirty days or even longer. Once it’s there, though, it comes easily. With this awareness, I’ve incorporated quite a few new and helpful habits into my life in recent years. I’m proud of every one of them.

So, writing down things that I’m thankful for is a good thing, all on its own. I know it would please my mother, and it adds another bit of discipline into my disorganized life. Beyond that, the gratitude habit has opened my eyes. It would be easy to write a simple, rote list of blessings in my life: my family, a roof over my head, and food to eat are always things I’m grateful for. Repetitive, but true. Since I try to write sincerely about things that please me, I am more observant, and more aware.

When I’m forced out of bed at two in the morning to let a dog outside, and the moon is bright, or the sky is full of stars, I think, “thank you,” and the next day, “last night’s bright moon,” or “that beautiful sky full of stars” will show up in my gratitude-writing. If it rains when we need rain, or the sunshine raises my spirits, I take note. A phone call or a message from a loved one will surely make the list. I’ve become more appreciative of the small pleasures in my life, as I pay more attention to them. Gratitude is a habit. A simple, eye-opening, life-enhancing, happiness-inducing habit. I highly recommend it!

Giving

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I enjoy giving much more than receiving.

I think that’s how most people are. Giving opens my heart; receiving intimidates me.

I can hand out compliments all day. I try, in every single interaction, to find something honestly positive to say. I’m good at it. When I’m given a compliment, however, I freeze. My first instinct is to deny it. No, I don’t look nice, I’m not that talented, and I’m not so smart. I worry that the compliment-giver is just being patronizing, that their words aren’t sincere, or that they are speaking out of pity. I have to force myself to accept their words, and to voice a simple “Thank you.” The same dichotomy is present in gift-giving and gift receiving

In The Mirror Has Two Faces, Barbra Streisand says, “I want someone to know me…to really know me!” Choosing thoughtful gifts for others based on their interests is a way to show them that they are known, and understood. It can be as simple as remembering a favorite color or a hobby.

Shared interests make giving even more fun. My daughter Kate and I are both avid readers, and we often share similar taste in reading material. Lately, we’ve both been working to expand our knowledge and awareness about race relations in this country. We have lively discussions about books we’ve found, and give each other suggestions about what to read next. She told me about The New Jim Crow; I sent her a copy of Caste.

Even when I limit myself to buying books as gifts (because shopping for and shipping out other things can be hard to do from this location, and because I love getting books as gifts, so I assume everyone else feels that way, too!), I work hard to match the book to the recipient. I know that both of my daughters share an appreciation for the works of Stephen King, and that my grandson Michael always appreciates a book about Beaver Island. It’s more of a struggle to find the “perfect” book for my other grandchildren, but I’m always up for the challenge.

Gifts that are given to me are, first of all, just too much. Too generous. Either too big and too expensive, or too many small, thoughtful things. They are so thoughtful! So timely! Immediately, I feel shame that I have not met the gift-giving standard. Did I even send a card? What measly or cheap gift did I give, to now be receiving this wondrous thing? What did I ever do to deserve such kindness?

Of course, if I voice these doubts and concerns out loud, I am generally reassured with compliments…which are equally difficult to accept. Receiving is just plain hard. Giving, on the other hand, is easy!