Lessons Learned

It’s been five months now since my Dad passed away. I of course still miss him daily. I find myself unable to see elderly men out alone, it reminds me of his loneliness, and that is difficult for me. I recently had to leave the produce section at the grocery store because there was a man of a similar age shopping alone. It moved me to tears. I found myself wondering if he had family, or if he was alone in this world. In Sunday’s New York Times there was an extensive article about a man named George Bell. He had died alone at home, discovered only because of the odor that began to escape his apartment. The article told of the procedures involved when the police discover situations such as George’s, but it also shed a little light on George and his life. George may not have had anyone in his last moments, but his story will stay with me, and in that he won’t be forgotten.

When you lose both of your parents issues of your own mortality come to the surface. You become the oldest generation in your family. It’s an odd feeling. Many years ago someone (who shall remain nameless since she seems to go out of her way to say not nice things) told me I was a bad mother. Why? Because I was too close to my children, and that in the end that would hurt them. I hadn’t yet lost a parent at the time. I sort of get it now, but I don’t agree. When you’re a parent the hardest thing in the world is to see your child hurt or in pain. It’s intolerable. Knowing the pain that my Mom’s death caused, and the recent loss of my Dad (more about that below), what troubles me most isn’t that I’ll die, but its knowing that my own children will suffer at my loss. The one pain in their lives I cannot heal. When I saw Titanic I wasn’t moved by the love story of Rose and Jack (they quite frankly could have gone down with the ship and I wouldn’t have cared…no offense Leo and Kate), what did move me, and resonate with me, was the scene of the Irish woman in steerage putting her children to bed knowing that they were going to drown and that there was nothing she could do about it. I can’t imagine her pain. Where I disagree with what my anonymous critic said is that as much pain as I felt eight years ago (and still do) and am currently feeling about my Dad, I wouldn’t trade my relationships with them for anything. My Mom knew I loved her more than anything, My Dad knew I loved him, and worried about him, and I knew that they loved me. Were they perfect parents? No, none of us are. They were human, but they both had a tremendous capacity for love and gave it to their four daughters. Would my pain be less if they were absent parents, or abusive parents? I don’t necessarily think so. I think that it actually might be more painful to lose someone and spend the rest of your life trying to figure out what you did that they treated you as such. I have spent nearly thirty-one years as a mom. I have spent all of those thirty-one years trying to show as much love to my daughter as possible, and twenty-five years with my son. I am not a perfect parent, and like all families we have had our moments, but I know without a single ounce of doubt that my children will always know how much I love them, and that means I’ve done my job.

When my mother died eight years ago it sent me into a tailspin of grief. It was like being at the bottom of a well without a ladder or rope to climb. Long periods of sobbing, and of questioning myself with all the “what ifs”. Eventually I sought counseling, probably one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. My Mom’s death served as a catalyst for much needed changes in me. I guess you could look at it as her final gift to me. I came out of that mourning as a stronger, more open, and determined woman.

My Dad’s final gift to me? I tend to be a loner. I always have been. I am not someone with a large circle of friends.  I mentioned here before how much I talked to him on the phone. I have come to realize that I wasn’t just filling his time so that he wasn’t lonely, but my own as well. I need to put myself out there in the world a little more. Twenty years from now I don’t want my children to feel the need to call me incessantly because they don’t want me to be lonely, or God forbid because they are lonely. I want them to learn from this and keep friends in their lives. I also hope they will learn from me to find the strength within them that my Mom’s death gave me, but to find it now when they are younger.

Finally, reading the story of George Bell on Sunday gave me pause for thought. Instead of running from the produce aisle in tears, I think next time I see what appears to be an elderly person alone, I will engage them in conversation. I’ve done it before, and maybe mentioned it before, but I had an elderly friend. Someone with family, but family that was disinterested at best. Her name was Hattie Klipp, she died at 104. My kids remember her from when they were much, much younger. Hattie was very dear to me, a substitute grandmother in many ways. I met her when I worked in a grocery store. Lesson three, this one comes from me. You never know what gift you will find when you reach out to someone else. I highly recommend it.

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Behind The Mask: Faceless Hatred

So here I go once again, just when I thought my words about words were over and done with. Not so fast. On Sunday in the New York Times magazine there was an article about a case that will be heard by the Supreme Court. It is about the 1st Amendment, and the individual right to free speech. Seems like a clear-cut case right? It isn’t. It seems a marriage dissolved, the male half of the couple went onto social media and posted about wanting to kill his ex-wife, he actually went into some detail, and more than that he made a video. He claims that he was venting anger and frustration, that he never actually intended to follow through on any of what he wrote. Meanwhile, the ex-wife was very frightened, enough to take out an order of protection. She does not feel that he should be able to terrorize her even if it is only through words. He served some jail time, and is now suing for his right to free speech. (This is a very simplified explanation of the case.) The case that will be presented to the Supreme Court is asking this question: What is more important, the right of the individual to express what he feels? Or the rights of the person that those words focus on who lives in fear of the threat?

I don’t think there is one among us who hasn’t said something in anger that we aren’t proud of, or wish we could take back. I’m pretty sure we have all also been rather casual in tossing around the word “hate”, “I hate him.” or “I hate you.” Sometimes in jest, sometimes in reference to an actor in a movie, someone we don’t even know, but for some reason there is something about that person you find distasteful. We don’t really hate them. I think for most people if they really did hate someone they would have a difficult time saying it to the person’s face. This is my issue with what this man did, and for that matter what people in my own life have done. I mentioned the family member in my last two posts who was saying hateful things. Do I really think he hates my husband? No I don’t. Social media have become society’s mask to hide behind. How easy it is to say mean and hateful things when you don’t have to look someone in the face. It makes bullying easier, it makes racism easier, it makes sitting in judgment easier. Think about it. Isn’t that the reason that a particular organization wears white hoods covering their faces? Would you have the nerve to walk up to someone you barely know and call them a coward and a liar? I am asking all of us to remember that behind that screen lies a human heart that can forever hold the scars of what it’s mind sees and reads.

I ask because someone I know has just had such an experience on Facebook. He wrote a remark on someone’s post. He did it because the person was mistaken, it was not his place to do so, and I have told him that. It didn’t end there. Someone else that it had nothing to do with joined in. The person I know sent a  private message that man and questioned why, but told this man he was doing it via private message as to not have a public discourse on a page that belongs to someone else. What he got in return was a message calling him a coward for not posting publicly, and calling him a liar. He is neither. He has not responded, although he wants to, but I have told him to let it go. This person doesn’t know him. I can only assume through connections that he may have heard things that aren’t true, but I can’t be sure. Fueling ignorance gives people more to feed on. Do I want to say something? You bet I do (Obviously I have a lot to say about a lot of things….), but I won’t.

As I said before, I don’t want hatred or anger in my life. I am just deeply disturbed by those who hide behind the mask. Why must people resort to name calling? When my husband was dealing with his family member he asked for facts. He never got any. He got name calling. What is wrong with old-fashioned debate? What happened to, “I believe you are mistaken for these reasons…fact…fact…fact.” In return, “I see your point, but were you aware of…fact…fact…fact.” It worked that way for a long time. I am aware that even facts can be skewed to one’s own perspective, but at least no one was calling anyone else a liar.

There is a loss of decorum in our society, a loss of self-respect, class, and by that I mean to present oneself to the world in our best sense, through the way we act, dress, and speak. It is becoming increasingly easier to spread untruth, to spread vile words, to spew hatred. I’m on the fence with the Supreme Court decision. I do believe in free speech, very much so as I write what I believe here on these pages, but I also feel a duty to not use my words to hurt people. Free speech was meant to make us a better people, a greater Nation, by giving us the right to criticize that Nation.  It was never meant as a blank check to use as a means to bully teenagers into killing themselves, or to cause fear in another because of anger and frustration, it was never intended to be used to dehumanize our fellow citizen. We live in a country that guarantees us the right to speak, but we should also as citizens not just of this Country, but as citizens of the world at large, use our words carefully. I sometimes write of spirituality and love, today I share wise words from some who are far wiser than I:

Matthew 15:10-11

And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

Sahih Muslim

He who believes in Allah and the Last Day should either utter good words or better keep silence.

Jewish Proverb

A bird that you set free may be caught again, but a word that escapes your lips will not return.

Dalai Lama

“Silence is sometimes the best answer.”

In the end I guess I do have a few more words, and quite possibly some wise ones at that.

Jacqueline Zuckerman

If you could plant a field of seeds would you sow? Roses or weeds? Remember that words are like seeds, once sown they take root in the hearts and minds of others.

And with that, I have no more words, I only offer you something lovely to plant in your mind for today.

Sunset over Temecula on Sunday, just breathtaking.IMG_1053

The Reality Of Making A Plan

A few definitions courtesy of Google.

Plan

1. A detailed proposal for doing or achieving something.

2. An intention or decision about what one is going to do.

Reality

The world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.

This is my life. There are plans, and then there is reality. Today is Wednesday. It is the day that I set as a deadline to work on my portrait of Jessica. It was a plan. The reality is that I have too many projects occurring at the same time. This does not matter to Jessica (the portrait, the real Jessica is lovely and patient), I feel the portrait of Jessica giving me the evil eye. I made a silent promise to it today that I will visit soon, and before Halloween when this whole thing would be just too creepy.

My Grandfather clock/bookcase. Another plan. The reality is that I need Dan to help me with it. Dan has hurt his back. (Just a little for those of you who care) The reality is that I should not be allowed anywhere near power tools that may remove appendages from my body. I actually like my fingers. I am a smart capable woman, I am also a complete klutz. Any project that requires a saw shall remain undone until my partner is feeling better.

Plan B

A watercolor of some Hollyhocks.

Reality

Boring. Been done, no need to repeat.

No plan. I begin to wander the house looking at the messy piles of art supplies that are now in every room. No plan. I make my way into the garden, sneaking by portrait of Jessica and hope she doesn’t see me. (I believe I’m developing a phobia) There are supplies in the garden too. They are neatly arranged, because Dan neatly arranges them. I see a piece of wood. It is a cast off. Too small for a shelf or much else. I have an idea, something that has been on my mind for several days. I think I know what I want to do, but then I begin to use watercolor on the wood. I wasn’t even sure it would work, but it does, beautifully. My intention was to paint the wood to look bruised, it doesn’t look bruised, it is soft, it flows gently into the grain. The wood has plans of its own. There is a knot in the wood. The plot thickens, my project changes. I have made it known that I am just a little intense about trash and recycling. It occurs to me as I watch this scrap of wood begin to change, that it might have ended up in our trash. It was too small for anything, well anything except art. I use a lot of paper. I recycle all of it. Would I throw away this much paper? No, that would be a crime in my house. The knot in the wood appears to me as an eye. A living thing. This piece of wood was a living thing. The evolution of a piece of art. No plan, just the reality of all that we, that I, waste. This simple piece of wood that began its life as part of a beautiful tree. Reborn. Making a statement. Sometimes I don’t have the words, and then I look to those who are wiser than I. Thank you Mahatma Gandhi.IMG_1848

 

A New Process

I again find myself fascinated by an artistic process I know nothing about. Encaustic Art, an ancient technique using melted wax and oil tints. I’ve seen a few projects and thought they were beautiful. So of course me being me, I set out to play with a technique I have no idea how to do. Did I get a book? Yes. Did I read it? Sort of. I read enough to get a general idea, and to learn that they are some health and safety regulations. A little more about me. I am beyond klutzy, a good friend who sells insurance suggested I get insured, not life or health, but accident. I have already revealed the accidental slit wrist, the six knee surgeries, etc…but it goes well beyond that. I think I have an oven burn to commemorate every holiday dinner I have prepared. As for inhaling fumes, my daughter once told me that the smell of polyurethane reminds her of home. Never bothering with a mask, or to work outdoors (although in all fairness to me, Chicago in the winter? You work inside if at all possible). I now have chemical allergies. All in the name of art. I’d like to think at this age I’ve learned to behave. That of course means I went ahead and worked with some wax. I didn’t have all the materials mentioned in the book, but I did have a box of tiny candles that I bought for a dollar several years ago. Trial and error is my mantra. Officially known as “Art by the seat of my pants”. When you’ve never had lessons, it’s a way of life. I melted wax and poured it over a black and white print of one of my photos. Error number one, it needs some reinforcement  under it or it will curl under the weight of the wax. Back to the drawing board. Also changed my mind about the photo. I originally was using photo of an angel from a gravestone. I switched to one of my cloud photos from a few days ago. This time I mounted the photo which was printed on matte paper, to a piece of black foam core board. I have altered the color of the photo slightly, intensifying the hue. I then added just a hint of yellow ochre oil paint to the melted wax. I poured it over the photo. I loved the effect, a cloudy, dreamy feeling. I went back with white oil and added highlights to a few areas, rubbing them in with my fingers. I was very happy with the result. Then as I looked at the finished piece I thought it needed words to go with it. Dan had been looking over my shoulder and really liked where it was going, so I decided to dedicate it to him. I found a quote about love and time, it just seemed to fit with the photo. I will definitely be experimenting more with this technique, and I might actually even read the book!9 2The quote translates to: “Love is the emblem of eternity; it confounds all notion of time: effaces all memory of a beginning, all fear of an end.

Madame de Stael

The Art Of Reinvention

Reinvention:

1.Bring back into existence.

2. To remake or redo completely.

3. To make as if for the first time something already invented.

Reinvention, it’s about more than the cabinet doors that I post tonight, it’s about myself. Like so many women I have spent my life in a number of conventional roles, daughter, girlfriend, wife, mother, and eventually grandmother (no pressure kids, seriously). In all of that I failed far too often to see myself. I was so busy playing the roles, good daughter, great girlfriend, etc…I was so focused on being the best I could for everyone else in my life, that I didn’t do the best for me. I mentioned last night that for a while I didn’t even have a dream, and that is sadly very much the truth. I realized tonight as I was working on these old doors, doors that could have been cast off and thrown away, that I have been throwing myself away for years. My daughter reads this blog, and I want her to learn from my mistakes, not repeat them. I should have been taking time for my art, for myself years ago, but I had learned from my mother to put everyone else first, a lesson I took to heart. I started this blog more than four months ago, and it has been an incredible tool in helping me lift myself out of the rut I put myself in a long time ago. There is so much work that I have produced that I am really proud of. I feel like I’m reinventing myself as much as I am reinventing these doors. Finally becoming the whole person I should have been all along. I am still a daughter, a mother and a wife, but now I feel justified in calling myself an artist and a writer, and quite frankly just being myself. There are still days when I feel like I’m juggling too many balls in the air, and scrambling to get work done, but I’m doing it. I am still managing to care for my family and my home, and still carving that niche out of every day for myself. There are days when I allow myself more time than others, and there are days when I am falling asleep as I type this blog. Life is a balancing act, the trick is to realize that occasionally its OK to drop one of the balls, you can always pick it up again, but to always remember to keep your eye on the juggler. If you don’t take care of yourself, if you don’t love yourself, if you don’t allow yourself to dream, life will pass you by quicker than you can imagine. You may just find yourself wondering where your life went. I’m a little late to the party, but its far from over. I found this quote that I really like.

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

George Eliot

As I embark on my future artistic endeavors, as well as a new business with Dan, I know I am more than capable, I know we can succeed. I have reinvented myself, my life, and oh there are these doors…the first photo is one of the doors unfinished.IMG_0767This door has been “reinvented” as a child’s chalkboard.IMG_0773The second door as a serving tray with a chalkboard center. (Theresa’s suggestion, thanks for a terrific idea)IMG_0775

Mind Games

I love words. I love quotes. I love the way the manipulation of a few characters of an alphabet can change the course of a relationship, can propel a person to success, even sadly, when used to break a heart. I decided about two years ago to take up collage. This again for me is an exercise in frustration, collage really has no rules to follow, and how can one be perfect when there is no guideline? But what I do love about collage is that it is a place for me to add some words, some phrases, and a quote or two. I have a very different piece of art for tonight. Last night was a tough one. I promised myself that I wasn’t going to let things get to me. I promised that today would be the day where I put my art first. Did I? Of course not. We had plans this evening for dinner at our daughter’s apartment. I needed to bring something so I baked brownies. Then my son told me that while we were out he would be having friends over. You know what that means. On the chance that even one of the twenty-somethings would notice, I cleaned, and cleaned, oh and then, I cleaned some more. We were leaving at three. What time did I start my project for today? 2:45. On the forty-five minute drive to our daughter’s I sat in the passenger seat of the car sorting words. I mentioned above that I love words. I have a box of them. Single words, phrases and quotes cut from newspapers and magazines. All cut out with the intention of working on those collage projects. (I actually did do three or four small ones) Hundreds of little pieces of paper, each one speaking to me, and almost all of them having to do with changing my life. I had decided that for tonight I would use some of them. I’ve been cutting them out for years, and they waited for me to get where I am now. That was the first part of the project, choosing words. The second part was deciding how to use them. It came to me as I looked through the box.  I find that I have taken quite a few photos of fire escapes. (Dan believes it is symbolic of how I felt about myself, I think I agree)  When I looked at this particular photo, which had somehow found its way into my box of words, it seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. This isn’t a completed project, it is actually part of a larger piece I started a few weeks back. Tomorrow I will marry them together, but for tonight, and particularly if you read last night’s blog, you will get it. I hope. Image

Voyage Of Self Discovery

The night before last I posted a photo of the cigar box that I had begun to work on. I left it yesterday because I wasn’t sure where it was going. I had written about chapter titles that spoke to me. When I revisited the box today I knew what it needed to be. A journal of sorts about the journey I am on now.  I will make the pages as they come to me, using collage and possibly some paintings, again by what I feel in the moment. When I think I am finished I want to make a paper accordion that can be pulled out of the box. Over the last few years I have collected words and phrases that appeal to me. I must have hundreds of these cut out words in a box. I’ve used some of these words tonight, alongside a childhood photo of me (cute, right?)  I guess in my own way I am going through artistic therapy. I want to explore what I feel and why I feel it, and exactly how  that affects who I am as an artist. I am hoping through all this self exploration I will discover my voice not only as an artist, but in other parts of my life. One of the sentences I added to the collage tonight states, ” your only regret is that you didn’t do it sooner..” That is more true that I could possibly tell you. I can’t focus on that, I have to move forward.Image

An Epiphany

What? It’s the middle of the day, well not quite, but the sun is still out for some time to come and I am finished with a project. Yes, it is the one I started yesterday, and yes, it is completely different from what it started out to be. Last night I gave up. I posted that photo and went to bed. I really had no idea what I was going to do next. I had some idea about my mother (which I think I mentioned), but I felt overwhelmed and lost. I really wanted to do something different. I had a discussion with Dan about it this afternoon and had an epiphany. Altered art is difficult for me because there really are no rules, there are no “supposed to be”, or “supposed to look like” guidelines. There isn’t going to be anyone telling me that I’m doing it wrong, or something to compare it to. It is what it is, and you either like it or don’t. That’s hard for me. The whole thing is hard for me, courtesy of …myself! I’m beginning to think I need to recite a mantra while I work, repeating over and over, “Relax, relax…”. I’m a great cook, really great, like you would like to come to my house every night for dinner great, and I like to bake, and I’m good at it. I never, ever question myself when I am cooking or baking, I just do it. Most of the time I don’t even measure or follow recipes, and when I do I change them, I’m that confident. Why can’t I find that confidence in my art? When I told friends and family about this project many were happy for me and so supportive, some quite honestly seem to give a crap, but one in particular said something that really bothered me. (I won’t say who (or is it whom?) it is, let’s just say she may have given birth to my husband.) I said I was a little A.D.D. when it comes to art, there are way too many things I like to do, and that I find it difficult to stick to one thing. The response? A reference to “Jack of all trades, master of none”. Here’s the thing, I am good at everything I do. Am I the best? No, but I rarely fail at anything creative. Does every meal I make turn out right? No. Does every batch of cookies come away perfect? No. Do I agonize over those mistakes? No. Everything artistically that I have attempted has worked. I may not get the exact results that I was hoping for, but for the most part the work is pretty damn good. Am I a master, certainly not, but I am a gifted human being who is struggling to find out who she is as an artist before the clock runs out and I leave my children hundreds of unfinished pieces of work and enough art supplies for my own Blick outlet store.

So, after that long, long-winded unloading, my project. I was still thinking about my mother this morning, that led me into thinking about life and death, eternal life. Will I see her again kind of stuff, and then I knew what I wanted to do. Well, sort of, it just started working on its own. The piece is called, “ab aeterno”, which is Latin for, “from the eternal”. The wood burned marks of last night weren’t doing it for me. I filled it with wood putty, and you may have noticed a clock piece on it last night, I hated it. I had to scrape it off. (Note to self: do not glue things down until you are sure you want them there!) I eventually had a brainstorm and heated my putty knife which lifted the hot glue off nicely. I rubbed some gold acrylic where the burn marks had been and there was just enough left to hold the color like rays. I printed the William Blake quote on Vellum, and cut the halo from the scraps. The halo is actually two pieces glued almost all the way together, it gives it a very three-dimensional quality. I rubbed the gold on the torn edges of the quote, added hints of Martha Stewart’s pearl paint, (fabulous stuff!) and painted my title. On a different headstone in the same cemetery I found this beautiful casting of some Calla Lilies, I printed those on the same water slide decal paper, and painted them with a hint of the pearl paint using my finger. (My mother’s grave marker, which I designed, has shamrocks, a harp and Calla Lilies on it, all symbols of significance to Ireland.) I finished the piece by putting a clock hand in the hand of the angel, as a reminder of how time is not ours to control. I love it. I think what I love most was that at a certain point my brain shut down and the work took over. It’s something I need to do more often. Ab aeterno (4)