Sunshine and Possibilities

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Sunday morning…with two whole days off ahead…holds the most potential of the whole week for me. Add sunshine, and it’s a transcendent pause, filled with hope and possibility.

A sense of calm envelopes me as I start my day. I move a stack of mail and two magazines to make room to open my journal. There are no feelings of guilt or reproach at the messy table. There will be time to sort and file the papers.  With the same ease of mind, I move dog toys aside with my foot as I make my way to the coffee pot. I watch the sun streaming through the sliding glass doors with hardly a thought to the specks and smears that mar the glass. There will be time.

I look out over the back yard; I appreciate the softness of the lawn and the shadows that play across the grass. I acknowledge that the mower should be put to use soon, but there is no stress associated with that thought. It’s the same as I walk through the garden. I make mental notes of the areas that need attention, but it doesn’t worry me.

With a cup of coffee in front of me, I turn my attention to today’s date in my journal. It is, right now, a full, blank page. I make a note to remind me to get to the grocery store today (it’s only open until 1 PM) to buy dog food. I start lists of things I want to give my time and attention to today. “Write” is first on the list, then “Walk” because the sun is shining and the dogs look forward to it. Under “Cleaning” I note “windows” and “laundry.” I prefer to add chores after I’ve finished them, rather than start right off with a long list of “to-do”s. Likewise, I jot headings for “Yard,” “Garden” and “Studio,” and leave space to add my accomplishments later.

There. I pour a second cup of coffee, and drink it while paging through a magazine.

Tomorrow, or the next day, every single “yet-to-do” item will be a cause of angst and self-recrimination. Not today. Today, there is time…and possibility. This morning it’s all about hope…and sunshine!

 

[A Little]Timeout for Art

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I managed, this week, over the course of two days, to watch two old movies. On VHS. In my studio. That’s how I know that, in between other jobs, meetings and obligations, squeezed in between loads of laundry, housework and yard work, I spent about four hours there…in the studio.

I did a little neatening and organizing. I did a roll call of finished pieces and works in progress. And I brought one piece back from the brink of destruction.

It was first a painting that lacked interest, that became the background for a collage of handmade and painted papers. It was too busy, and I’d added layers of translucent color to unify the surface. I went too far, and ended up with a heavily textured, almost monotone piece. Then, too long ago to remember what form of crazed logic caused me to think it was a good idea, I used a dowel dipped in paint to cover the surface with rows of polka dots.

I had actually polka-dotted several same-sized pieces. I think my “vision” was to combine them all in a large grid reminiscent of primitive wall art. I had four 2′ x 2′ panels, which was not enough, even, to see if it would work out…if I had many more panels, each with several years worth of texture under the eventual dotted surface, and the space to assemble it.

So, there it was, an often-changing fixture in my studio. I pulled it out again the other day, and started moving collage elements around on the surface. What did I have to lose?It held my interest. Over the course of about four hours divided between two days, I gave it a new life. All of the previous incarnations are present as layers of texture and color, adding subtleties and interest to the surface treatment. All told, I have about a hundred hours invested in this one panel, now completed in less than four. I can live with that!

Artifacts to Memories: Things I Can’t Let Go

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There is a lot of stuff in my life. I was hoping for a more delicate term, but “stuff” seems apt. Gifts, purchases, hand-me-downs and inheritances. Sixty-four years worth of accumulated belongings. Enough to divide into several categories.

There are the things I hold on to for their sentimental value. Ranging from drawings and cards that my young daughters made more than thirty years ago, to photographs, to little gifts from friends and family, to my very first hard-cover chapter book, to my dining room table. The table was a junk store find that my Dad brought home, that was used as our clothes-folding table and extra-seating-at-holiday-time table for most of my life. Then, moved out to the garage, it was my brother David’s work and party table (the surface gained a few cigarette burns and saw marks from that phase), my sister Sheila’s table to relax with a book and a beverage…and finally my dining room table.

There are things I keep because they are necessary, or because they seem necessary to me. Most of my clothing fits this category…but so do many books, plants, baskets, candles, art supplies, art work, and a large collection of flat, round stones. I know there is too much. I go through periods of purging and paring down. These “necessities” are spared, because the thought of losing them gives me heart palpitations.

Then, there are the items I hold on to, because of an – often unrealistic – idea of the person I would like to be. A collection of beautiful yarn waits, in a basket with crochet hooks and scissors, for the day when I am transformed back into the woman I used to be: a young mother, making gifts and treasures from bits of yarn. Other baskets, boxes and suitcases hold fabrics, embroidery floss, needlepoint canvas, rug-making tools and accessories, and quilt squares. My life doesn’t have room for the activities associated with all of this “stuff,” but I can’t give up on the idea that it will.

That young woman that I was, along with a Katherine Hepburn/Jo March/Martha Stewart-esque vision of a person I would like to be are evident in excesses throughout my house, from bookshelves to closets to kitchen cupboards. I would like to be someone who drinks tea, does yoga, listens to cool jazz, wears hats, raises chickens, grows all of her own food, reads the classics, and hosts lovely dinner parties…including trifle for dessert. I am not, but many of my belonging would lead one to think so.

That is the crux of the problem, when faced with getting rid of things I don’t use. I love that young woman that I used to be, with a dozen projects going and a whole lifetime ahead to finish them. I can’t seem to let go of her, yet. I still picture myself with chickens and a big garden, doing yoga, jazz music coming from the stereo, James Joyce on my nightstand. Until I give up on the person I was, and the person I want to be, I can hardly give up her accessories!

 

I Miss the Lists

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Last year, Sunday writing was based on the 52 Lists Project, a book that was a godsend of direction and inspiration in my year of daily writing. Sometimes the lists were long; sometimes short. Some were more difficult than others. They always got me thinking, and gave me something to write about. I miss the lists.

I once participated in a four-day writing workshop with author, Mary Blocksma. She started by having us divide our lives into segments that made sense to us. Early-childhood; elementary school; high school; young adult, wife and new mother; and on and on. Not too many segments…six or seven was enough. We wrote the titles of our life sections across the top of large papers with folds to divide the columns.

Then, Mary would suggest a topic…pets, for instance, and we would fill in each area of our life with what animals were in our lives at what time. Their names alone would bring up additional memories of how they came into our lives, friends and activities associated with them, and the gruesome details of their inevitable demise. Other topics were: vehicles; teachers; friends and lovers; food; entertainment. By the time we filled the sheet with notations, we had each remembered things that had not been thought about for years. Long-forgotten moments were marveled at and – later in the week – written about.

I have often pulled this exercise out to ease out details of a time or a place. Like the “lists” project, it helps to focus my attention on one thing. Either method, for me, is an aside to other writing. I love stream-of-consciousness wanderings and free-wheeling essays. When that is all I write, though, it starts to feel repetitive. The little “assignments” force me to look at things from a different angle.

This year, I presented myself with the challenge of writing three days a week, with two assignments. “Artifacts to Memories” is a memoir project based on taking common household objects and using them as the basis of my life story. “Timeout for Art” allows me a day to focus on my art, or a particular process of art-making, or to showcase the work of other artists, or – too often – to whine about not having time enough to work in the studio. Sunday was the day I allowed myself for wild, unregimented, anything-goes writing. With my usual guidelines of being kind, paying attention, and not wallowing too much in grumbling and complaints. So far, a third of the way into this year, I’ve fallen off a bit on all three.

With spring in the air, with all the promise of new beginnings, I’m making a fresh effort. In writing, as in life. So, today, on this last day of April, I am making lists. Not lists of things to write about, but of things to do, to get my life back on track. The list is not long, but it’s growing. Some things are on the list in an effort to form a new life-pattern or habit. Others reflect old efforts that have lately been neglected. Many items simply showcase a renewed commitment to things that are important to me. Writing is one of those things; time in the studio is another.

For me, the list alone is helpful. When I’m pulled in many directions, it helps to set priorities. Here’s hoping for a bright new start!

These Days

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These days, I wake up with physical reminders of allergies that go unnoticed for much of the year. These early spring days, I am snuffly and itchy. My vision is blurred because my eyes water continuously. My head feels heavy; my mind is foggy.

These days, with the weather of short sleeves and fewer layers just around the corner, there is no more time to “think about” the diet and exercise plan. The time for action is now.

These days, one hundred outdoor projects call to me every day. There is weeding and raking to do in every flower bed, and in the yard as a whole. Shrubs need to be shaped and pruned. The climbing rose needs to have its wicked, thorny vines guided up the trellis. There are still (still!) windfall twigs and branches to be picked up, though I’ve been gathering them by the hundreds for weeks now. Then there’s the garden. With fences to be repaired and soil to be worked, weeding, pruning, planning, planting and transplanting, it is a source of unending and overwhelming obligation.

These days, when the summer season with the shop and gallery openings is right around the corner, all on-going and unfinished projects in the art studio become more pressing. If I’m going to have new work to show, it has to be finished right away. Then there is mounting, matting and framing to consider. Things that were relegated to “extra time” and “lazy days” are now urgent, and crucial, and vying for space at the top of the priority list.

Sharing that crowded top-of-the-list spot are all of the items on my wintertime agenda that have still not been completed. Deep cleaning here, a major “sort and purge” there, a few home repair plans and several reorganization intentions still wait for my attention, after the long winter of Too Little Accomplished.

These days, it’s hard to know what the weather will be. One unseasonably warm day is often followed by cold rain, wind, and unreasonable cold. Sunday, with only a light sweater over my clothes, I walked three miles with the big dog. Yesterday, having dragged my winter parka back out of the closet, I did a few turns around the yard gathering up branches and dog toys. Last week, three days of cold rain kept me inside. Fortunately, whatever the climate dictates, I have a project waiting!

High Hopes

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I don’t want to draw too much attention to my lapsed blogging of late, for fear it will become one other negative thing I identify with, like chronic lateness, procrastination, and a dependence on coffee. Then, it becomes even harder to do better.

That’s why, though I no longer walk every single day, rarely go farther than two miles and almost never at a pace that would qualify as exercise, I still label myself a walker. Though time spent in the studio is limited, and good, productive, art-making days are even more scarce, I continue to call myself an artist. I am still a gardener, though I’ve done little beyond watching the weeds crowd into my perennial beds and overtake my vegetable plot for two years now. And, even though I have neglected this blog for more than ten days and haven’t written much of anything else of any consequence either, I am still a writer.

We’ve had several cold, damp, windy and rainy that are my absolute least favorite kind of day, when it comes to weather. To add to the chill and discomfort, the thermostat on the propane stove that heats my house has quit working. As it’s almost summer, and I won’t be needing to have the heat on then, I decided the repair could wait. I manually turn on the stove when I get up in the morning, and turn it off when the house has warmed up. I do the same thing when I get home from work. It’s a fine system until three days of wind and rain come along to throw a monkey wrench into it. Then, I find myself grumbling around in a damp and cold space, morning and evening.

I spent the Easter weekend on the mainland, catching up with my dear friend, Linda. In grade school, when we first became friends, we’d take our lunches over to Crampton Park. There, under the bridge, on the narrow concrete ledge beside the water of the Flint River, we ate while we talked about boys and bras and the things we could see in the murky water. We’d share stories, laughs and big plans for the future. The many years that have passed since then were evident last weekend. We spent one long day shopping for and visiting with my elderly aunt. Another, we spent wandering through the cemetery. Still, there was lots to talk about, and plenty of laughs.

On days when it isn’t raining and cold, there is a definite scent of spring in the air. My snowdrops and narcissus are already blooming, and early tulips are in bud. The forsythia is starting to show yellow; trees and shrubs have leaves ready to unfurl. I’ve been working around the yard, and in the smaller flower beds. When the sun is out, I grab the trowel and pull the wheelbarrow out as soon as I get home from work. While the dogs entertain themselves with springtime smells and chasing snakes, I work at moving fallen leaves and pulling weeds. There’s an awful lot yet to do, but I’m seeing progress.

I have a couple new venues for my artwork this summer, so am even more determined to get some fresh work to show. I think of it in the afternoon, when I’m stocking shelves and tidying the aisles at work. I imagine going straight to the studio when I get home; I picture the projects I’ll tackle and the work I’ll get done. But, then, by the time I pull into my driveway, my energy is flagging. The dogs need to go out. The yard needs work. Then there’s dinner to think about. And clean-up. By that time, my thoughts have turned to my book, and bed.

But, here is Sunday. A new week is always filled with possibility. The sun was out, but while I’ve been sitting here, it has ducked back behind the clouds. Still, a nice day for a walk. If it’s warm enough, I’m going to open the windows to the breeze, and give the house a good cleaning. Then, I’ll let the weather dictate whether the balance of the day is spent outside in the garden, or upstairs in the studio. Either way, I have high hopes.

Artifacts to Memories: One Image

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It doesn’t take much, these days, to bring up a memory. My head seems more filled with the past than with current events. I spent a dreary cold, damp and rainy afternoon on the sofa, recently. That was enough.

I wore the sweatpants that have been a part of my wardrobe for the last twenty years.  I “inherited” them from an old boyfriend, who left them at my house. First, they were a comfortable, warm layer to throw on for running errands or taking a walk. Eventually, I wore them in the studio. I’m a messy artist; I wipe my hands on my clothes. Soon, they were fit for nothing else. Now, they are so crusted with glue, acrylic paint and polymer medium, they could probably stand on their own. Their colorful surface could tell many stories.

As a top layer, I put on my baggy pink sweatshirt. I bought it, used, a couple years ago while treasure-hunting in re-sale shops with my sister, Brenda. Two dollars. It has too many spots and stains to ever be worn in public anymore, but it’s a comfy choice when I’m at home.

Over all, because I felt chilled with the dampness, I wore my bathrobe. It is fleece, gray and dingy white, with an all over pattern of sheep . My mother bought it for me many Christmases ago because it reminded her of one I’d had when I was sixteen. First, I didn’t really think it was my style. Fleece? Sheep? I thought I would have preferred terry cloth, or chenille. I’ve grown to appreciate it, though, over the years. Now that my mom is no longer with us, I treasure it as a gift from her, along with the thoughtfulness she put into it.

One ring on my finger. That, I bought on a whim several years ago while browsing at Livingstone Studio. I’m not much of a jewelry person, but every now and then, something catches my eye. My sister, Robin, wears rings on almost every finger. It is a wonderful look for her, and one I thought of borrowing. I don’t have a lifestyle that suits rings, though. I don’t think to take them off, and my hands are too often in paint or clay, detergent or other corrosive substance. This ring has hung in there with me, though. It doesn’t turn my finger green, and it has just a bit of sparkle, that I like. It draws my eyes, sometimes, to my hand. The older I get, the more my hands remind me of my mother’s hands, and that’s always a good feeling.

One book, a crocheted afghan,  and two dogs completed the little vignette. It was a good afternoon.

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