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Poetry Challenge

This afternoon, I got a poetry challenge from my lovely Aunt Stephie – a poet and artist all around wonderful human being. Having had the gauntlet thrown at me, here is my answer to the title “Lost” written in 30 minutes…..

Lost

The last I saw the green ones
they were on the kitchen table near
the red cup with the peace sign
full of cold coffee.

I noticed them
because I knew I would need them
later to thread the sewing machine.

It’s really the progressives that I want though
so that I can see the expiration date
on the milk that got pushed to the back
of the refrigerator
and still identify whose dog is currently eating
the compost while I’m looking out the window.

I remember leaving the pair of tortoiseshells
in my pocket so that I would always have
them if I couldn’t find the others
but that was last week
and the wash has been done since then.

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Traveling

Hmmm….  starting across the country.

The first day we traveled across New England and into New York state.  It was a beautiful drive on small roads.  We camped beside a small pond in Hornell with the sound of cars in the background but a beautiful moon.  Today I revisited Alfred where I went to college and then we drove through PA and into Ohio.  In Ohio we drove by huge fields of corn and soybeans that looked like an experiment in genetic engineering from the signs that were posted along the side.  It was a little creepy – the size of the fields and the signs posted everywhere with batch numbers on them.  Small lawns were carved out of the huge fields of soybeans.  Later, we decided to can our camping plans for the night and stay in a hotel because of thunderstorms that we have had all day.  I’m writing from the Comfort Inn in Huber, OH.

After driving around Huber, looking for a bookstore (apparently no such thing exists) and having a terrible Mexican meal, we’ve decided that Ohio is not our favorite state.  Look out – tomorrow we’re on to Indiana!

Back to the Real World

Wow!  Two weeks of vacation.  It’s an amazing thing, changing my schedule so drastically.  There is no automatic pilot – getting up in the morning, running the shower while I put the water on for coffee, reading the paper, driving to work, doing my thing there and driving home to make supper and then the evening’s activity of art or reading or conversation or friends.  Vacation is all about changing location and changing mindset by moving out of the daily ritual.

Interestingly enough, as much as I move out of the pattern that is my daily life here in NH, I willingly move into different ones depending on where I am.  It seems that that morning ritual is particularly important to me.  I develop one at each place that I stay for more than a couple of nights.

The Shin Pond ritual involves putting on my bathing suit, packing up my headlamp and clothing for the day, walking down the path to the main cabin, starting the coffee, going for my morning swim, taking my coffee to the end of the dock with the current book and watching the day start over the pond.  At the ocean, it’s more civilized, less complicated.  I make coffee, wipe the deck furniture of its morning dew, pour the coffee and settle on the deck to watch the lobster boats go out for the day.  I usually have a book in hand there as well.

There is something comforting about starting the day with a simple task and then enjoying the morning as it slowly unfolds that appeals to me.  That early quiet time sets the tone for the day and allows me to begin with a peaceful mind.  Early rising often means that I am the first one awake.  I love the quiet while everyone else is still asleep and I have the whole day to look forward to.  I love being the maker of the coffee.  I love watching my fellow vacationers sleepily emerge from their rooms to join me in my reverie of the beautiful place we are sharing.  Vacation lets me stretch that morning time into hours rather than minutes.

Ahhhhh….I’m still feeling the peace.

Standing Naked

Last night was the biweekly meeting of my art support group.  The group consists of four women artists.

Two of us are painters, one is a fiber artist and I’m the printmaker but that doesn’t matter.

We have varying commitments to our art in terms of time and livelihood but that doesn’t really matter either.

What does matter is that we have created a space amongst the four of us where we can share the most intimate pieces of our lives, including our art.  This is where pieces are shown first.  This is where ideas are introduced and tested.  It’s where we can admit our shortcomings and celebrate our victories, personal and artistic.  It’s where we can talk about our fears and brag about our accomplishments ad nauseum and no one actually vomits.  They cheer along with us or cry or hug or dance.

Why does this work so well?

Here are a couple of quotes for you:

Rosalind Russell – “Acting is standing up naked and turning around very slowly.

and

Eric Maisel – “An artist feels vulnerable to begin with; and yet the only answer is to recklessly discard more armor.“

So – Why does the group work?  Because it’s safe.  Because we know that what goes into the group, stays there.  Because we know that no matter what, we will get loving honesty from one another.  Because we depend on each other for support and we have committed ourselves to give support as it’s needed.

From what other people tell me, what we have in our group is special and not easy to find.   I’m not sure how we got so lucky to find the right people to make it work so well.  We’re all very different in our personalities and our art.  We don’t always agree.  But it is a safe place.  Maybe it’s because we have thrown all of ourselves into the group and not just our art.  We have celebrated weddings and births as well as shows.  There has been divorce and disappointment.

Making art is personal.  It is standing up naked.  It is discarding your armor.  When you can do that in front of friends who love you and know that you are safe and loved, it is amazingly powerful.

I have found that in this group of special women.  I can take the power that we make together and go out into the world.

Breathe

This weekend I am hosting a graduation party for my son who will be going off to Colorado in 6 very short weeks.  Here is what I am feeling:

Pride – I love to look at this boy/man and see the courage and determination that he has developed.  I continue to marvel at his strength and to keep my mind open and learn from his enthusiasm, youth and honesty.

Sadness – There has been a lot of leaving in my life in the past year and this will be one more.  It is a sweet one in that it is what we both want but I will miss him in my daily life.

Elation – I haven’t lived alone for over 30 years!

Fear – I haven’t lived alone for over 30 years!

Elation/Fear – This is the unknown.  What will my evenings look like?  Will I be inspired or lonely?  Will I start eating dinner over the sink or serve myself candlelit dinners?  Will the phone ever ring if I’m the only one home?  Will I turn into the crazy cat lady or will I have (as my grandmother used to say) “beaus” lining up at the door?

Peace – This is what I feel when I stop and remember to breathe; remember that I can only live right now, right here.  Remember that I want to enjoy this process and feel each step as I walk along.  The rest will come.

Intention – As I start down this new road, I am setting this intention:  I will pay attention to my life by noticing where I am and what it feels like.  I will move my focus away from tomorrow and away from yesterday to experience today in the most aware way possible.  I will pay attention to my art by respecting its power in my life and keeping it close.  I will practice.  I will practice.  I will practice.

I will breathe.

Cleaning the Studio

Yesterday I wrote about how important it is to me to have a room of my own to work and play in that allows me to let my hair down and be myself.  If you had a chance to read that post and take a look at the pictures of my studio, you might wonder how an actual person could fit into that mess.  I know that after I posted those pictures it was one of my first thoughts along with “Oh my! You’re letting other people see that mess?”, and  “Do you suppose you can cram anything else into that space?”

So today, I’ll let you in on a little secret, that isn’t really a secret to anyone who’s been to my house.  I can be a little messy when I’m working……  OK – I can be quite messy when I’m working……….  Alright, alright – I am a slob.

Here’s the cycle.  It starts with a lovely clean studio where everything has its place and is obligingly waiting there for my attention.  I come in and wander around and admire the studio’s neatness, how clean the floor is and that I can practically dance in there without disturbing any stuff.  While I’m dancing around, I notice an idea sidling its way into my attention and I pick out a plate, some ink, a couple of brayers.  I might start looking for an image that I remembered seeing in a pile somewhere (who cleaned up in here and where did it go?) or I might start drawing over by the window (oh – how sweet to have counter space just waiting for me!).

Ink is mixed, plates are inked, ink is pushed and wiped and spread.  I pull out the glue for my chine colle, the scissors, a number of brushes and cloths to manipulate the ink a bit more.  I am now dancing a different dance; the samba of the maker, the rave of creativity.  It is a wild dance, this laying down of color and image.  It is messy and childlike and fun.  It has its origins in fingerpainting and its restraints from the rules of school.  I am pulled by ideas, emotions and my senses while my intellect helps with the choreography.  I might work on two or even three plates at the same time, letting ideas talk to one another and influence each other’s paths.

When plates are ready, I press them.  Prints are laid out on any spare surface to dry.  Used plates are inked again using the leftover ink as a starting point for the next print.  I might go on this way for days or weeks until …it’s time to clean.

Often there is a break between the mess making and the cleaning up.  There are books to be read and weeds to be pulled and the need to take some time to recharge the creative batteries.  But at some point I have to face the chaos that I left behind.  I pick up, I wash and sort plates.  I put everything neatly back into place and vacuum the floor.  I touch my books and remember what lies inside of them.  I pick up the jars of ink and admire the color as I wipe them down.  Brayers are wiped and laid on their backs in order of size and brushes are scrubbed with soap and water and sorted according to their use.

Sometime later, I will wander in again and admire the studio’s neatness.

Claiming the Studio

Studio

Drafting Table

I’ve been trying desperately to change the name of my workspace for a good 10 years.  That’s a long time to be desperate but for some reason the names of rooms become ingrained in my head and changing them takes an act of – well – desperation.

The kitchen is easy, it’s always the kitchen – food is prepared and eaten there.  There’s no confusion.  The guest room has been lots of things since I’ve lived in the house and is now in a state of flux once more – I’m trying to decide between guest room (it has a futon so can hold guests), computer room (obvious), or office.  I’m planning to put all of my yarn and knitting supplies up there so it could even be the wool room or the knitting room.  I use all of those names interchangeably at the moment so whenever I refer to the room, everyone in earshot is confused about where I mean.

When I moved into the house, the studio was the sewing room.  It held my fabric, my machine, and all of my various sewing accessories.  It was my room, a room where I could retreat to gather my thoughts and make stuff.  I have a history of sewing rooms.  I had one in the previous house and my mother always had a sewing room.  The words “sewing room” flow naturally off of my tongue and hold an emotional value for me.  In this particular room, in this house, I made clothing for myself and my family, I made gifts for the people I love.  I wrote poetry, I talked on the phone, I listened to the radio and sang.  I was myself.

Studio

Bookcases

Eventually, the sewing stuff took up more space in the closets and less on the counters.  Ink and plexiglass replaced scissors and needles.  It was time to make a change.  I needed to recognize and validate the artist in me.

I started trying to call my room “the studio” instead of the sewing room.  Sometimes I remembered and sometimes it was still “the sewing room”.  Sometimes it was just “my room”.   I wasn’t sewing much anymore and so I moved the fabric out of the room.  I moved my sewing books and patterns out and replaced them with my printmaking books.  I remembered to say “studio” more often and my family seemed to know which room I was talking about.

This week, I am hoping to get a desk from a friend. It will replace a bureau that used to be in the studio.  The desk is sturdy and low and can be used for pressing, something the bureau could never do.  My space is transforming once again to the changes in my life.

I’m lucky.  As an adult I’ve always had a room of my own.  I have kept a place where I can be myself and where the only expectations are those that I impose on myself.  Whether it is an office, a sewing room, or a studio; whether the furniture gets moved around or the name changes; it’s a place where I am the queen.

A Fine Line

About two weeks ago, a rabbit showed up in my yard.  It was early morning and I was drinking a cup of coffee, looking out the kitchen window when I caught sight of it.  I didn’t have my glasses on so I wasn’t sure what it was at first.  I just knew that that brown lump over by the fire pit hadn’t been there the day before and it did (I was pretty sure) seem to be moving.  I very seldom see rabbits where I live and when I do, they are zipping across the road, toward the safety of some thick underbrush.

I turned away just for a moment to get my glasses and by the time I had them on my face and had turned back toward the window, it was gone.

The next morning it showed up again.  I quickly grabbed my glasses and identified it as a rabbit.  Stealthily, I made my way to the front door keeping a quiet as I could, stalking the small beast to get a better look.  I made it out the front door and almost half way across the front lawn when it spied me.  It looked up from its breakfast, gave me a good hard look and went back to eating.  I walked closer.  It ignored me.  By this time I had given up my stealthy walk ( – take a step – stop – take another step – stop –) and took a few normally gaited steps.  I got within about 5 feet of it when it ran.

Any normal rabbit would have darted into the woods or under the perennials.  Heck, any normal rabbit would have been gone when it first caught sight of me sneaking out the front door.  This rabbit ran out into the middle of the lawn, just out of my reach and started eating again.

That evening, I decided that I should catch the rabbit.  I have a large garden filled with delicious temptations for the local herbivores so I consider them all rivals including the deer that want to eat the tender leaves of my growing fruit trees, the porcupines that munch on my raspberry canes, the voles that dig in my beds and chew on my carrots and now this new intruder – the rabbit.  I enlisted the help of my son, a resourceful teenager, and we set out to catch the rabbit.

Rabbits aren’t all that bright; we had one as a pet a few years ago and though they can be nauseatingly cute, ours spent a good deal of energy in amorous activity with a red nerf ball.  What they are is fast.  We tried cornering it, trapping it in a cardboard box, throwing a sheet over it and when we got desperate, trapping it under a rake.  It always let us get within 2 or 3 feet and then would scoot out just far enough ahead of us to keep us chasing it.  The closest we got was about an hour into the chase when, exhausted, it lay down in the shade panting.  We tried to chase it down but finally gave in to our own hunger and left it alone.

This weekend, I worked in the garden.  The rabbit ate right beside me.  It always stayed out of reach but close enough so it was enjoyable company.  If I moved toward it, it moved away.  If I moved away, it came with me, keeping a safe but congenial distance.  It seemed to be eating the weeds but that could have been the result of the cognitive dissonance that I was apparently creating as the fuzzy little brown creature looked up at me with its soft brown eyes.

Last night my son and I started thinking up names for it.  That was after we discussed borrowing a gun.

Relationships are tricky things.  If you are hungry, anything that competes with you for food is a rival.  The same goes with water or warmth or safety and I suppose on a less fundamental level, comfort, peace and happiness.  We choose our relationships by making sure our basic needs are met and that our quality of life isn’t compromised and rather is enhanced.

And then sometimes, we just need a little company in the garden.

Barn Chores

Growing up on a farm, I learned early that there are some things that must be done every day to keep the barn running smoothly and everyone healthy.  The five of us children were in charge of a few of these, feeding the calves, cleaning the water-bowls and my favorite, shoveling out the stanchions where the cows stood to be milked.

When you live on a farm, shoveling sh*t becomes much more than just a great metaphor for the trials of life.  It is a very real, very tedious, very dirty and smelly job that has to be done to maintain some order and cleanliness in the daily life of the barn.  Without the sh*t shovelers, the stuff just piles higher and higher and the natural consequences pile up with it like dead flies on the window sill.

Since it is something that you are dealing with on a daily basis, you also get used to the stuff.  I was thinking about this as I was talking to someone about my print “Sunday on the Farm” who asked me if those were bees in the image.  Nice, clean bees that fly around to all the beautiful flowers sucking nectar and making honey.  No – those are flies – definitely flies – flies that love manure and rotting silage and leave fly specks on every horizontal surface – flies – one of the reasons that sh*t shovelers are so important.  They control the flies.

The girl in the print is an ancestor of mine.  I love this image of her, standing on a chair to have her picture taken all dressed up.  It’s a dress up day, Sunday.  A day you might go to church or have company.  The shapes that are repeated are of an iron, the preparation for looking beautiful.  I think they look a lot like arches also, an entryway to someplace holy.

When you live on a farm, especially a dairy farm, there are no days off.  The cows must be milked, the sh*t must be shoveled.  So there she stands ready for the special day surrounded by the flies reminding her that no matter what, chores must be done.

Back to the metaphorical part.  In our lives, there are chores that must be done every day.  No matter how often we clean, or do the dishes or deal with that tiny voice in our brain telling us whatever it insists on repeating, we will have to do it again another day.  The trick is to remember that we are all sh*t shovelers and that it is an honorable and important job even as it is tedious and smelly.  We do it to keep ourselves healthy and happy and to keep the darn flies away.

Isolation and Creativity

My backyard

Sometimes the rarer, the beautiful can only emerge or survive in isolation.  In a similar manner, some degree of withdrawal serves to nurture man’s creative powers.  The artist and scientist bring out of the dark void, like the mysterious universe itself, the unique, the strange, and unexpected.  – Loren Eiseley

I came across this quote at another artists website.  It speaks to me in a couple of ways.  The first is the idea of creativity and isolation.  The second, that I will address in my next post is the juxtaposition of artist and scientist.

One of the fantasies that I have entertained throughout my life is that of retreating into the woods and living a life alone in a cabin; chopping my own wood, carrying water, reading by lantern and rising with the sun.  Some of this is fueled by my love of the outdoors and my fascination with self-sufficiency.  The other impetus is the idea of being alone for an extended period of time.

I grew up in a big family on a farm so there was always someone at home and some sort of noisy activity going on with haying or milking or a rousing game of tennis ball against the barn.  We couldn’t leave the farm for any extended period of time so friends and family came to us for visits.  There was always room around the kitchen table for another person and it was often filled.  Being the eldest of 5 girls, the only way to peace and quiet was to retreat into the woods where I could hide for a few hours; my solitude broken only by the knowledge that I would be missed at chore time.

I think that with all of that activity going on, isolation became a fascination for me.  What could I do with days and weeks of time to clear my head and let loose my creative energy?  What amazing things could I create without the critical eye of an audience?  What if I had the space and time to play and make mistakes and just let my curiosity have its way with me?

The fantasy is wonderful.  The reality looks more like this:

I wander around the house and the garden, a bit aimlessly.  This lasts at least a couple of days.  I think about turning on the computer or watching a movie to pass the time but am able to resist the urge.  I clean something.  I organize something.  I try not to read.  I stand in the studio and look at my supplies. Maybe I go into the kitchen and bake some bread.  That feels good.  I wander back into the studio.  I pick up a brayer and ink up a plate – maybe make a quick print – nothing too special but now I have an inked plate to play with and here is where the fun starts.

It takes me days of quiet to get through to the place where I feel like I can start to create.  I don’t often get to work from this quiet place because I have a family and a job that I go to five days a week.  But when I do, this is what it looks like; hours and days of quietness, the gathering of energy and emotional resources before the work.  I believe that quiet and even boredom can positively contribute to creativity.  It’s almost like the brain needs some empty space to create something new and exciting.

What do you think?  How does it work for you?