Unanswerable Loss

DoubleTwo months. That’s how long it has been since I’ve sat before this computer and shared my thoughts, my life. One month. That’s how long it has been since I lost my Dad. I’ve been busy. We closed on our home the 7th of April, and made two trips to Chicago to see my Dad. Well, one to see him, and one to bury him. The truth is that I’ve been avoiding myself, avoiding this blog, because I wasn’t ready. Grief is a funny thing. It’s never the same for two people. I’ve written a lot about why people are who they are, and how experiences shape them. Grief has a way of pointing out the differences. Some take action and busy themselves to the tasks at hand, while others let grief surround them like a blanket held tight, waiting for comfort, but finding none. There are those who begin the desperate search to find answers, to question God, to layer the guilty “should haves”, “would haves”, and tear themselves apart. For me there is no anger. In our Dad’s final days we were all praying that he be released from his pain, and that he might be able to rejoin our Mother. Her loss was one he had never recovered from. Once those prayers were answered we were all left feeling the pain and emptiness that only death can deliver. For me there was additional sadness. Despite making two trips to Chicago in the weeks prior to his death, I had planned to go and be there for his final days. I had a flight scheduled for a Monday, he died the Friday before. The harsh reality of not living near family is that there are times when the distance causes one to feel like they aren’t quite part of things. Birthdays, graduations, the gradual growth of a child, are all things you witness from afar, and when someone you love falls ill it brings tremendous feelings of helplessness. With my Dad it was complicated further by our move. I wasn’t free to spend as much time with him as I would have liked. When our Mother died (forgive me if I have written of this before), Dad told me he couldn’t go to sleep. For more than fifty years the love of his life had been at his side, and now the bed was empty, there was no one to say goodnight to. My heart broke for him. He had always said that loneliness was the worst disease. I began to call him every night. I spoke about it at his funeral. In almost eight years I missed only a handful of nights, and when I knew in advance that I wouldn’t be able to make that call I asked someone else, usually my daughter, to make the call for me. Eventually those calls increased to every morning, and several throughout the day. I took every call he made. I wanted him to feel secure in knowing that someone would always be there. I would check the television schedule every day looking for his other great love, soccer. I would call with movies, history programs, anything to fill his empty days. There were times when we had great conversation. We would talk politics, religion, family history, and in particular movies. There were also difficult conversations. There were times when I sat here strangling the phone in frustration. Calls when he was angry at his loss, at his loneliness, and his bewilderment at God for taking “his Mary” first, and leaving him lost. Now I am the one feeling a little lost. For nearly eight years the first thing I did every morning was pick up the phone, and again every night, a call so he could hear the voice of someone he loved before he went to sleep. He isn’t lonely anymore, but I am. There is an emptiness in both the beginning and end of my day. I couldn’t call him in the final weeks before his death. I relied on my sisters to put the phone to his ear. On the morning that he died I told him I loved him and that it was time to let go. I told him it was time to go to Mommy and to his Big Mommy (his grandmother whom he adored). I had no way to know that would be our last call. He died about two hours later. Yesterday I called one of my sisters. I was the one feeling lost and lonely; I was the one who needed to hear the voice of someone I love. On the morning that my Dad passed away I was driving to the local mall. I’m sure everyone knows of the horrible drought here in Southern California, but that morning it was raining, raining hard. As I was driving my thoughts were on my Dad. I had only two hours before been telling him to let go. I thought to myself that the way it was raining reminded me of Ireland, and of course that reminded me of my Dad. I pulled into a parking space and said aloud, “These aren’t tears of sorrow; they are tears of joy, a good one is coming home.” I stepped out of my truck and my phone rang. It was my sister calling me to tell me that our father just died. Maybe in some way I knew. Maybe all of those phone calls gave us a connection that transcends this world. Dad if there was a direct line to Heaven I’d call you right now, but I know you are with Mom right where you need to be. I love you both, and I miss the sound of your voice.


Last week I was at the doctor to get some blood test results. I had a conversation with my doc about my aging father and his inability to seem to filter things he says to people. My doctor explained that there is a part of our brain, a filter of sorts, in the frontal lobe. As we age it begins to “thin” out. This is apparently why people who are elderly say just about anything that comes to mind, at least that’s what I got out of it. Several years ago a friend of ours said that because he was over fifty he felt entitled to tell people off, something I guess he felt he earned. I bring all of this up because I am quite frankly worried for my children. They’re fine, its their having to deal with me that I’m worried about. Have you ever looked at your mother or father and said, “I’ll never be like that.”, and then you start seeing your parents in yourself? Certain turns of a phrase, or mannerisms that just come out of nowhere. You find yourself aghast at something that just came out of your mouth, something you swore you’d never say. I already have filter issues. Ask anyone who knows me, I’m very confrontational. I have no problem whatsoever telling someone exactly what I think. It doesn’t always go over very well. I’m not mean about it or anything (at least most of the time), but I don’t think that holding things in does anything but build resentment. Over time resentment becomes like picking at a scab (I know, gross comparison, but I have a point), if you aren’t honest in your feelings, particularly with those who are close to you, you pick and pick in your mind at what upset you until it’s an open wound again. Now the wound that was maybe just a little scratch has become something that might require a stitch or two.  The little upset that would have been solved with an “I’m sorry”, has become a major infraction. (Never good in a relationship) I want to live in a world where when someone upsets me I say, “You’ve….”, and they say, “Oh, I’m sorry.” I’m not letting myself off the hook either. If I have angered someone, hurt their feeling, been unintentionally thoughtless, I want to know. I want to say, “I’m sorry.” For now I am in control. I don’t say anything inappropriate,  and when I make fun of people I make sure that they don’t hear me. (Don’t judge, you know you do it too.)

Now after that long explanation of how my world should work…. I’m afraid that my kids may have their hands full with their filter-less mother. I promise them here and now on this page that I will try to retain as much frontal lobe filter as possible, but the fact is that I can’t make any promises. I may have to apologize here and now for all the embarrassment in their futures, but guess what?  I’ve dealt with my Dad, my sisters have as well. We all love him terribly, but we have all had our “Dad” moments, where you “Shh!”, or in a rather exasperated and pleading tone say, “Dad, be quiet. They can hear you.”  I guess it’s just something we will all have to suffer through, unless of course there becomes a scientific breakthrough in frontal lobe fattening. (Honestly, I can’t imagine myself to allow anything fattening anywhere near me, well, unless it’s chocolate) In the meanwhile, if you run into me be assured that I am really, really nice, but if you happen to say or do the wrong thing…

Regaining Control

I’m usually pretty good at coming up with a title for a post. They come to me quickly, and I usually never second guess my choice. Today is a little different. I wasn’t sure whether to title this one as I did, “Regaining Control”, or my other thought which was  “Misconceptions.” What I need to get off my chest has a little to do with both. As I’ve pointed out before, this blog began as a way to force myself to work on my art. The unfortunate situation that we found ourselves in changed that. I still plan to return to my work, but there isn’t much time for creativity these days unless it is in the form of packing boxes. This blog instead has become a catharsis for my emotional well-being in a time of struggle. Pent up emotions do no one any good. I am a very “in your face” kind of person. I don’t believe in hiding the truth, I feel better when I am honest with people. That doesn’t mean that I go around insulting people by telling them something negative about themselves, some things are best left unsaid, but when I am upset with someone I don’t let it fester. When you don’t release your emotions I think little things tend to build into great big things, and then all kinds of unnecessary drama can ensue. I don’t know most of the people who read what I write, and that works for me. It just feels good to let it out, and if by chance someone else relates and it helps them in some way, that is amazing. I also don’t write looking for pity, which believe it or not I kind of think some people who I do know believe that I am. I’m a writer as well as an artist, so I am doing what a writer does, I write. I started keeping a journal at twelve, of course back then we didn’t have fancy names like “journal”, it was a diary. You know the kind where you talk about which boy is cute and how you hate your parents that day? I actually kept that diary for almost seven years. I’ve written a lot over the years. I’ve never attempted to have anything published, that lovely “you are good enough” voice that resides in my brain held me back. Short stories, poetry, and a few children’s books are all in a box. Someday I may let them out, but for now I write here. So with that rather long introduction I will begin.

I’ve had several people tell me to focus on the good in my life. Things such as, “Count your blessings.”,  “Look at all the love and kindness you’ve received.”,  “Stop focusing on the negative.” …and so on. The implication of course being that I spend my life in a complete state of “woe is me.” That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I guess I’ll address misconceptions first. I am grateful, I do count my blessings, I don’t always focus on the negative, and so on… This blog became a way to vent emotion. My lovely husband was struggling in his own way with his identity as the man of the house, the bread-winner, the guy who took care of everything. Did he need to be burdened with my worry wart ways? The answer is of course not. Venting here allowed me to blow off some worry as well as steam. Not that Dan didn’t always know what I was feeling, but this took the edge off. When I said that I felt my prayers weren’t being answered it didn’t mean that I suddenly stopped being Catholic. Trust me when I say I sometimes envy the faith that some people have. Mine is just a little shaky at the moment. I also believe something my sister said about God giving us free will. God does help them who help themselves, it’s just tough to get it going when no one will give you a chance, because guess what? The multitudes of people who turned Dan down for a job have free will too, the free will to not give him the job. I also in my beliefs think that God is a little busy right now with Gaza, the Ebola virus, the current crisis in Iraq, and the millions of poor starving babies in the world to be worried about whether or not I get to keep my 3000 square foot home. I wouldn’t expect that kind of attention. This is where the regaining control part comes in. I’m a self admitted control freak, and my life was way out of my control, that means I turn into a “basket-case”.  This was never about losing my big house, it was about worrying that I would have no house at all. This was about watching what the situation did to the person that I love, admire, and respect most in the world, Dan. It was about being scared. Loss of control is a big issue for me. It’s why I’m claustrophobic, I need the keys. The house will be on the market within a week. I’m exhausted, as is Dan, but (dare I say) we are also beginning to feel a little excited about the future. We went out last weekend to investigate potential places to move to, and quite frankly we fell in love. I won’t go into detail as of yet, but I am feeling hopeful, and just a little bit more in control. Now that there is a plan of sorts, it means that all is almost well in my world. We are helping ourselves and letting God take care of those who can’t and need Him way more than us.

Finally on this lovely Sunday morning a few words of wisdom from me.March 13 2010 079


Our Place

No news tonight, no complaints, just some thoughts on an observation from this morning, and how it relates to the kind of business I want us to have.

I was getting dressed this morning and knowing it was going to be 90 degrees today, I looked in the back recesses of my closet. I pulled out a shirt I haven’t worn in years. It happens to be a shirt that Dan bought me in Paris. We actually didn’t spend a lot of money there. We aren’t souvenir type people. If anything we had hoped to come home with something from a Parisian flea market. We unfortunately went to the wrong one, unless of course we were millionaires. The furniture was incredibly beautiful, and incredibly expensive. On our next trip (Don’t know how, don’t know when, but it will happen!), we will do our research and make sure we know where we are going. What we did end up buying was a sweater because I am always cold, and in the same shop the shirt I am wearing. We also purchased a shadow puppet for Jessica at the Musee d’Orsay. We had seen the collection of Theatre du Chat Noir (forgive me if I’ve gotten that wrong), incredibly intricate shadow puppets. Jessica is a graphic artist and loves strong imagery. I knew she would appreciate the design. Imagine my surprise when we got back to our apartment and discovered the sticker on the back that said, “Made in Chicago, Illinois”. I kid you not. It struck me as so funny. I flew all the way to Paris to buy my daughter something from her hometown. On the next to last day I mentioned to Dan that I had been admiring a second shirt in the window of a clothing store near where we were staying.  We went to the shop and purchased the shirt. That night as I packed my suitcase I noticed the tag inside of my new shirt, “American Rag”, the same brand as my jeans from Macy’s.

The world is becoming so interconnected thanks to our unbelievable ability to communicate, but at the same time I feel like something is being lost. I traveled with Dan on and off on business trips through the Midwest. I loved all the little towns, the shops, the local flavor. I think it many ways it is being lost. Now no matter where you go there is a Target, a Walmart, a Home Depot, etc…even in Paris I ended up with items I probably could have gotten back home. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I love antique stores and flea markets so much. Pretty much everything is one of a kind.  I want our place to be the shop that everyone will think of as “their place”. I hope to make every person that walks through the door as welcome as they feel in my home. I want it to be a place, like my home, where people want to stay awhile and put their feet up, enjoy some really delicious food, a good cup of coffee, a good book, and some interesting conversation. (Now all I need is some money!)


As has happened before my art tonight is inspired by a photo I saw in the newspaper. I didn’t copy exactly what I saw, but definitely the feel of it with my own little twist. Something simple, I’m feeling nostalgic tonight.


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I heard something this morning that really resonated with me. I heard it of course on Sunday Morning (at this point I think CBS should be sending me a check for promoting their show). There was a segment on an artist who makes amazing collages out of dollar bills. His name is Mark Wagner, his work is incredibly intricate. (Google him, amazing work!) During the interview he said, “Art happens in two places. In my brain when I’m making these things, and then in the viewer’s brain when they are looking at them.” I never really thought about art in that way. There is the old “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”,  but I never really thought about the very personal relationship between the viewer and the work of art. I of course have a very personal relationship with my work, and the work itself is the result of my life’s experiences, through my mind’s eye, my talent. In the same way when I look at a piece of art my life’s experiences will affect the way I see, relate, or experience that work. It means a great deal to me when someone likes my work, or finds a deeper meaning in it, but I guess I hadn’t put as much thought into exactly how others are experiencing what I create. I am a very self analytical person, and have a fascination with why other people are who they are. The reality is that no two people will experience art in the same way. Dan and I had a conversation just the other day about just this kind of thing.  We talked about how our likes and dislikes are formed, and the fact that some of them we seem to have been born with. We all know how we inherit the color of our eyes, but why is he so intrigued by history? Why art for me? Why was I so drawn to it from such an early age? My kids have been exposed to art from infancy, but I certainly wasn’t. I have very strong reactions to particular kinds of art as well. I can pick myself apart on a lot of my little idiosyncrasies, but there is much about myself that makes me curious. Why do I love antiques when my sister thinks that they are creepy? Why do I love purple and green, and my daughter red plaid? I know a lot of who we turn out to be is shaped by our parents and our environment, but even that doesn’t account for everything. Do we carry opinions in our DNA? I always wondered if we can inherit body type, why we couldn’t inherit memories and taste as well. Sometimes this kind of thought can lead you down the dog chasing it’s own tail kind of thinking. Sometimes there are no answers, just more questions, but I really do love to ask them.

I didn’t accomplish much today. I’m still short of breath and it makes me tired. I did the unthinkable today, I tried to take a nap. I almost succeeded, that is until my cat Mia decided to do a little mountain climbing up my leg and onto my hip and yodel (well, meow). She left and I tried again, but then the phone rang. No sleep for me. I did manage to finish the front panel on the box, but I am leaning towards upholstering the top. I want it to be a place to sit and read.

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I’ve never been to see a psychic. I’d like to say it’s because I don’t believe in psychics, but the truth is that I’m not sure if I believe in them, and I know myself. I have a very active imagination, and as I have mentioned more than once in past posts, I’m Irish. (If you happened to have not read it, it means glass not full, nor empty, because the glass is shattered on the floor.) I’ve always been afraid that if I heard something that wasn’t good I’d obsess. (I’m also phenomenally good at obsessing.) It would rule my life, no matter how much I would try to convince myself that it was nonsense there would be that little corner of my mind that would poke its nasty self into my every waking moment. It’s much the same with superstition. We’ve had a rough year, and the disappointments, bad luck, and struggles continue and seem to have no end. (Dan does have a promising job interview on Tuesday, but I’m honestly afraid to be hopeful.) In the last few days I’ve been writing about the never-ending window projects. I left them alone yesterday, I needed a break. Today with fresh eyes I went back to work on one of them. This would be the larger of the two that I intend to turn into sort of a jewelry/mirror/memo center. A place where you can check hair or makeup, choose your necklace, and read your to do list before you have to run out the door. I coated four of the triangular shapes with magnetic paint, and then on top of that a few coats of chalkboard paint. The two side panels will allow for tucked in memos, I plan on covering them tomorrow and adding ribbon detail, and finally the center, which will become a mirror. Except this, I bought a door mirror to cut to fit the center. I’ve never cut glass. I watched a YouTube video which of course made me an instant expert.  I broke a piece off. Seven years bad luck. Then Dan came in. He has cut glass, successfully, but not this time. Four breaks. So basically right now we are looking at another thirty-five years of bad luck. (Openly groveling for all reading this to wish me good karma.) Do I believe in the superstition of seven years of bad luck for a broken mirror? Seven years times five? Not to mention we have to try again tomorrow!!! I’d like to say no…but there is that nasty little corner of my mind….

So here is what’s happening so far…IMG_5625

I leaned the window against a mirror in my guest room. (Notice the magnet) Still much to do, but I think you get the idea…

…to be continued.

Old Habits Die Hard

Bad day today. Still battling something, not sure what, but woke at four with a headache, then again at five, and finally gave up at about six fifteen this morning. Worse yet I was battling some inner demons. Remember “not good enough”, the evil little tormentor that resides inside my brain? Well he made a return appearance today. I haven’t heard from him in a while, but he must have managed to slip out of his hiding space while my head was pounding. I started out the day investigating print and matte prices in order to sell my work. I was feeling confident, and artistically self-assured. I took a break to take Brian to urgent care. (Sitting in a cesspool of illness I’m sure did a lot for my already not feeling good self) I came home with an even more horrible headache. I decided to look at local art groups with the idea of joining one. I began to look at the work of some of the members, and worse yet began to look at their credentials. That’s when the self-doubt began to creep in. I read the educational pedigrees of these artists and felt inadequate. I thought I was past the chip on my shoulder, but I think maybe I had just learned to turn a deaf ear to the voice inside my head. Today it was loud and clear reminding me that I have had no training. Shortly after that exercise in self-destruction I began to organize my work from this project. I opened a separate file on my computer and began to sort through what I felt was “good” work, and copy those pieces into that file. I came up with forty-eight. I have been working on this project since the thirteenth of April and could only come up with forty-eight pieces that I felt were worthy. I went to Dan and told him how disappointed I was in myself. He immediately disagreed, and told me how much he admires what I have been doing, and that the work was good. After I talked to him I revisited my work, the number grew to one hundred and four. I have come to understand that my new-found artistic confidence is more fragile than I realized. I need to remind myself every day that I have talent, that not every piece will be perfect or turn out the way I want it to. It was a long struggle to get where I am, I’m not willing to lose the progress I’ve made. Tonight I attempted a watercolor portrait that honestly I am not that happy with. It falls under the “I should have left well enough alone” category. It seemed to be headed in the right direction, and then…self-doubt. Not good enough, add more paint, try to subtract more paint (tough with watercolor), in the end I added ink, in the end I think I should have left it alone. Tomorrow is a new day, a day to start over and remember that confidence I was building. One step back, two steps forward.1 21

The List Grows

Oh no, I’ve thought of another resolution. I need 2014 to get here quickly before I think of any more. I, like so many people, swear I don’t make resolutions, but I do make them, just not publicly, at least not before now. It’s a little game I think we play with ourselves, promises for bettering ourselves in the new year, quickly forgotten, or in most cases falling under the, “I’ll start it Monday” heading. I do have a few that I am keeping to myself, but I have one more to add to my list of “artistic resolutions”. I still have far too many half done projects that I had prior to this project, and in the last eight months since I started this I have begun a number of things that are not finished. Resolution number four: I must finish what I start. I began this resolution a little early. Last night I posted photos of a cigar box that I started. I finished it today. However, I have a little dilemma, it’s one I’m sure most artists and crafts people run into, how to price my work. I started this box last night, and spent quite a bit of time on it today. If I charged for my time the box would have to sell for a large sum of money. Too much for a paper cigar box no matter how good I think it looks. It isn’t that I don’t value my work. Funny, I just typed that and thought to myself, “You don’t value your work.” I constantly under price things. It is a discussion that Dan and I have had several times. I ask his advice on pricing, and then I immediately shoot it down. Always claiming that I wouldn’t pay that much. It really needs to stop. I need to look at my new-found confidence and ask what my work is worth. I would guess that this means resolution number five. (I really need to get through the next forty-eight hours without thinking too much.)

I finished with the gluing and burning of the box. In the process the lid was becoming loose. It was an easy enough fix. I made paper bag hinges, one set on the outside, one on the inside, and then I simply glued and burnt those. Embellishing was next. I looked on-line and found a Shakespeare quote about love:

Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs,

Being purged, a fire sparkling in lover’s eyes,

Being vexed, a sea nourished with lovers’ tears.

What is it else?

A madness most discreet,

A choking gall and preserving sweet.

I printed it on a piece of vellum, burnt the edges and decoupaged it to the top of the box, added a metal heart piece that I had, and the addition of a hinge and small padlock completed the outside. Inside a decoupaged vintage botanical photo, and a copy of a French postcard I own, again with burnt edges. It looks really old, and really does look like metal. A finished project, let the new year begin!IMG_3413The original box

IMG_3422Last night’s beginningIMG_3427The finished boxIMG_3431IMG_3432


Going Old School

New Year resolution number three: Post blog earlier. I have promised this on a number of occasions, but it just never seems to happen. I let too many other things to get in the way. Today I took care of some very important things, but then I made time, daylight time, for art. The result? Probably one of the best things I’ve done in a while, and I did it “old school”. By that I mean in a continuation of the last few days of painting without thinking too much about it, or obsessing over whether what I am doing is “wrong” or “right”, I just painted. Think of it like a small child. Children have no in-habitations. No one has told them yet that they have to be deadly serious all the time, or not find joy in the silly things. I was like that when I began to paint all those years ago. Without someone to tell me I was wrong, I painted for the sheer joy of it. It was only when I did try to take art in college that I was told I didn’t know what I was doing. It’s why I switched majors. I lost the freedom of expression that came in those early days. I became hung up on the rights and wrongs, the lack of art lessons, and in general my self-esteem, which while not great in everyday life, was stellar compared to my artistic self-confidence. I am three-quarters of the way through this year-long project, and it is without a doubt one of the best things I have ever done for myself. I am feeling confident in my work, and have lost the chip that occupied my shoulder for far too long. Today I truly went old school. I sat on the floor and painted. It’s how I began painting, sitting on an attic floor in our Chicago Bungalow, not enough light streaming through the window, but it was my space to paint, and that made me happy. I have two standing easels. One is large and heavy, Dan bought it for me at an antique store years ago. It was downstairs in our home, and I didn’t want Dan to go to the trouble of  bringing it up. The other broke earlier today. It fell over several times yesterday. I kept knocking it over as I cleaned. This afternoon I grabbed my palette, paints, brushes and water (I was painting in acrylic), and sat on the floor, my canvas leaning against a bookcase. I turned on my music and painted just as I did when I was a teen. Two and a half hours flew by. I was happy and content. I think it shows in the work. The painting is of a tree I have often admired when down at the shore in La Jolla. I was there one evening as the sun was setting and snapped a few photos. I’ve often thought of painting one of the photos. I love the color, and hope I have done it justice.12 28


Heeding My Own Advice

I’m longing for Spring. Not for the reason you might think. While much of the Country suffers the Winter cold and ice, we are enjoying beautiful weather. It was 79 here in Temecula today. What I need is for the clock to change back. Daylight Savings I need you! In the short amount of time since the clock switched back my body has refused to cooperate. I cannot seem to sleep past five these days, that in spite of how late I go to bed. Christmas Eve that meant bed near one in the morning, and rising at five. It affects my ability to function, with my art as well as pretty much everywhere else in my life. I began three entirely different projects today and couldn’t get my mojo together enough for any  of them. That’s when I thought about what I wrote the other day. I decided to take brush in hand and see where it went. It went in the direction of what I long for, longer days and spring flowers. 12 26