spaced out

it's not unusual for me to get in over my head.  this week, i feel as if i did just that.  i planned a costume party, and then i planned a trip out of town on the next day.  i planned to make three costumes, and do a painting a day, and do all my chores like laundry and grocery shopping. i planned more paintings on top of that.  i planned a concert, and i planned band practices...i planned and i planned and i planned.  but in the past week, in an attempt to fulfill the plans i've made, i've had a compulsive eye twitch plus a cold.  not to mention, there are the things you can never plan for.  like when or what day my poor old dog will want to head off to that great dog park in the sky.  sometimes i catch myself lately, standing staring, wondering what's next. sometimes i'll walk back and forth three or so times, forgetting why i'm going in either respective direction. i've made a terrific mess of the house and left no time for any kind of break, save the five hour train ride tomorrow.   but that, i'm looking forward to.  a mandatory break, a chance to stare out the window, watch the world go by, and space out for a while.  in fact, i'm pretty sure it's just what the doctor ordered.



in a tiny town with two bars, you can usually count on one thing:  surrounding most national holidays, town will be filled with drunk people and loud cover music.  on a weekend such as this particular halloween, it seems like people also take the opportunity to party as much as possible.  that means partying like it is halloween, the day before halloween.  furthermore, what that also means is on saturday, half of the people in town will be dressed like complete morons, like they lost the most horrible bet of their lives and this costume is their punishment.  the other half will look somewhat normal.    it's pretty confusing to everyone.  this was evidenced tonight as james and i were walking down the street to check the scene at the edison, the tavern at the south side of town.  walking down that quiet and dimly lit street in the middle of nowhere, we were followed by six ladies who had just left longhorns, the north side bar.  now lets get one thing straight:  these girls were hardly wearing anything. what they were wearing could possibly be construed as slutty cat, slutty french maid, and slutty devil, plus some other slutty indeterminables.  "i had to get out of there.  those creepy old guys were looking at us." i heard one say.  "yeah, they were looking at us like we were prostitutes!"  one exclaimed, apalled and disgusted.  but really girls, seriously?  you're upset about being objectified?  i'd say, judging by your costumes, and how much skin you've exposed, you made your own bed.  truly, how were the poor old fellas supposed to react? and whatever happened to a little old-fashioned modesty?



old habits die hard.  last night as i was drifting off to sleep, i remembered one of my own.  almost as a rule, i forget to clean my paintbrushes.  it's something i'm no stranger to. in fact, i've lost sleep over dirty brushes before.  they are, after all, the kind of tool that an artist might invest good money in. some may even venture to say that a quality brush is the mark of a good painter.  now with watercolor, it doesn't matter so much.  it's all water cleanup. you can't really ruin your brushes if you try.  but with oil paint, it's much more complicated.  if you leave the brushes laden overnight, the next day you return to a bunch of hard plastic tips, rendered useless by the painters carelessness, restlessness, obliviousness or forgetfulness. last night, by the time i remembered my faux pas,  i was too zonked to attempt a valiant rescue in my underwear.  luckily, i left just enough paint globbed on to the ends that my brushes, miraculously, didn't dry!  i was able to salvage my tools and get right to work on phase two of "half-a-painting-a-day". awesome save.

today was christened by two very important landmarks of the season.  first, it was the annual edison halloween parade, the one day of the year when the entire school full of kids k-8 tromps through town in every-which-kind of ridiculous getup.  it is a true spectacle, a joyous occasion, a reason to laugh out loud and (even though you usually don't buy into those commercial holidays, or junk food for that matter) throw a spray of candy, just for the kids, in celebration of life.  

second, i saw my first two trumpeter swans.  there is a brilliant ecstasy in their flight, long necks outstretched, white feathers glistening, reflected gold in the waning sun.  through the winter, their flocks keep the valley in steadfast company, in the cold and rain and mud, warding off any weather induced gloom with comical honking and an elegant demeanor. i'd say it's about time.

a cop-out

there is only so much a girl can do in one day.
today, i began by making myself tea.  next, i cleaned my cat's ears.  she's been struggling with a chronic ear infection since before we adopted her.  after that, i took my truck to anacortes to pick up some new clothing goodies from calli blau for the store.  upon my return, i started work on a commissioned oil painting.  i worked on that for several hours and gorged myself on tea until i desperately needed a break.  i decided to brave halloween costume construction.  i made a prototype garden gnome hat plus white-fur-tie-on-beard, and one deer headdress of fur with perky ears.  i toiled over sewing the fur and leather for some time; alas, my sewing machine is finicky with such stout materials.  upon completion of those projects, james came home, marking the hour for our ritual dog walk.  we sauntered around town, said our hellos to joey and allan and iris. upon return, we fed the animals their respective homemade foods.  at that point, it appeared we needed water and some other supplies.  we ran off to the coop, which consumes half-hour driving either way, plus some time to dilly and talk with faith about the logistical troubles with our upcoming halloween party.  when i returned from that errand, i realized i had forgotten to finish alterations for clea's beyonce costume, which she needed for school tomorrow.  i quickly mended a hole in the slinky gold number, added a slit up the side, and hemmed the bottom up five inches.  pretty flashy for a girl of eleven, i thought!  i delivered the much anticipated dress, checked out tom skinner's perfectly dead pheasant he found by the side of the road, and by the time i got home, it was pert near time for band practice.  tom farrell arrived, and we ran through the forty minute set, which left me famished, so the gang and me went next door for a bite to eat.  during our meal, we brainstormed words for all the songs that had yet to be fully written.  at which point i remembered:  i have yet to do my "one a day".

today, i present an alternative.  it shall be called the "one-half a day".  since i spent the greater part of the day painting, and i got a good way along on this particular piece, i find it unfair that it could be excluded and that i should have to slave away, paint more still, just to placate the demands i have set upon myself.  i also thought, hey, it may be an interesting experiment, to begin a painting and show it to you in stages of completion.   so here we are. a compromise, of sorts.  oil on a solid cedar antique table top.  the blue on the edges is masking tape.  when i finish the painting, i will pull the tape, and voila! clean edges.  but you'll just have to wait until later to see that.



sometimes you just stare at the screen. it stares right back at you. it's a staring contest. fun.  you gaze into its eyes and it gives you nothing in return.  you say, hello screen, how are you today?  nothing.  you say, hey screen, what's cookin?  any ideas for what you wanna do?  nothing.  and still, you continue look at the vapid emptiness, the screen,  waiting for inspiration, waiting for your mind to tell your ass to get off of itself.

i wrote one story today already, then erased it.  now i wish i had it back.  it was too cheery. the mood wasn't quite right, so i deleted the damn thing.  i know that it was about laughter, and fun, and the healing powers therein. and then there was this video,  it's always good for a humdrum day.  but i deleted the rest.  oops.   



i painted this plastic pig toy once before, ten years ago, in art school.  it resided on a three by four foot canvas, and it never really made the grade.  it was one of my very first oil paintings.  maybe my first.  it was painted over once and then given away, and painted over again by a friend.  nowadays, it lives under coats and coats, and the poor thing cannot see the light of day. so today i decided to unearth that smothered plastic creature from my past.  the toy...well, it came from my mom's collection of pigs.  when she died, naturally, it became my toy pig.  if you happen to tie a string to the loop on the front, and you also happen to pull it along with you for a ride, you will notice that the wheels are mounted in such a way that the hard shiny plastic pig wiggles to and fro.  actually, it's more like a giration.  i love this pig, this smiling pig, it makes me laugh: it was a fixture of my childhood.  so here it is again, reincarnated.

i know two guys who fell out of trees when they were young.  both of them broke vertebrae.  one was paralyzed in his legs,  the other has neurological damage in his hand and elsewhere.  both of them were changed, forever.  and both of them persevere, braving the day to day in the face of physical adversity.  these two guys, i love them.  they are my friends, and i can't imagine them as anyone other than who they are.  they are just about the most charming, sweetest guys i've ever met.  they both remember who they were before, and they know who they are now.  i only know them as who they are, to me: miracles of positivity.  they are themselves, just as we all are:  a product of the variables and differentials of our lives.

adversity draws men together and produces beauty and harmony in life's relationships, just as the cold of winter produces ice-flowers on the window-panes, which vanish with the warmth.
soren kierkegaard




today was supposed to be the day.  monday.  we talked it over on friday.   james confessed through tears that he had been planning it out in his head for a while.  he had been watching her carefully, intently observing her every move.  she hadn't been eating on her own, and having trouble on her walks, losing strength in her back legs.  james didn't want to tell me, or he couldn't bear to, knowing how much grief i have suffered in the last few years.  still, he couldn't keep it to himself any longer, the sorrow was eating him alive.  she seemed ready, he said.  she's tired, he said.  she seems like she is maybe starting to suffer.  i told him i wasn't so sure, it's hard to say, but monday seemed too soon, and we'd just have to take it one day at a time.  i cried a lot that day, and james did too.  i looked at her closely while she was sleeping, and every time she cracked her eyes open, i came over to stroke her soft snout and say hello, girl.  i love you old dog.

when i met james, it was champ that sold me on the whole deal.  a silky brown mexican desert dog with a bitchy reputation to everyone she didn't trust,  she was mean to nearly everyone at first.  too smart, and as far as i'm concerned, a pretty good judge of character. somehow i won her over quickly, we became fast friends.  she so generously let me have her place in bed, in exchange for a new couch plus hand-sewn overstuffed floor pillows, just for her. i always knew that she was the first lady, and gave her due respect, and maybe that's why she liked me.  on occasion, whether camping in the van or on a cold winters night, she'd snuggle in to conserve heat. the three of us would spoon, holding so perfectly still in the sandy sheets, embracing all through the night.  

together, the three of us have walked miles upon miles, along beaches, sidewalks, alleys, and rivers, through forests and valleys. we've driven up and down the I-5 corridor countless times, we've moved four times to four different houses.  we've seen it all together.  we've hardly been separated.  we're a family.

we decided to wait.  phew.  there are the downs, and then, thankfully, there are the ups.   monday just so happened to be an up.  when we see a glimmer of hope, we hold it to our hearts as a tonic, and we hold on.  when we run out of ups, we run out of time.  we're afraid of the inevitable, avoiding the inevitable, because it's hard to imagine a life without.  james and i know the story all to well: when you lose an integral piece of your identity, you realize just how much of the framework of your life relies on your relationships with others, your rituals of friendship.  and what's left when someone goes, well, it's an eerie emptiness that's hard to fill at first.  and yet, the cycle of life and death barrels on, relentless like a semi truck that has lost its brakes, inarguable as the changing seasons.  and love, it lives on.  love lives on and on.

Unable are the loved to die.  For love is immortality.  
~Emily Dickinson


put it off until tomorrow

collection of rose melberg

i guess you could say that i'm a procrastinator.  yep, that's me.  i wait until the very last minute to do the things that need to be done. there are always other things to do.  there's no way to accurately plan or prioritize when life is a self-dictated, untangle-able ball of yarn.  and besides, planning gets in the way of spontaneity. so by the time i get to it, a once seemingly simply task, a mere obligation, has typically grown to enormous proportions in my mind.  i'm sure that i've stressed, i've agonized, i've worried, i've put it off enough to let the damn job consume me. but then magically, i crank the living daylights out of this job, in a mad frenzied hurry, just to get it off my plate.  and somehow, defying logic, the job gets done, done well, and done in a fraction of the time it would have taken me otherwise.  because i've thought it through.  to the average person, it may seem like if i started early and took my time i would be happier.  but in all honesty, i like this side of me.  it's a thrilling, hold-on-to-your-hat way to be.  because life is like a rodeo:  you hang on tight, you try not to shit your pants. get er done.


sometimes life is just too much.  so you curl up tight.  you're a potato bug, hard shell exterior facing out towards the cruel world. you close your eyes inside the blackness and solitude, and wait for the storm to pass. you're hoping not to see the worst, hoping not to uncoil too soon for fear of being injured.  and then someone comes.  they find you and they pick you out of the dirt and they put you in the palm of their hand.  and they sit as still as they can, delicately breathing.  they watch, and wait.  they wait and wait for what seems like an eternity and they don't make a sound.  the stillness lasts, and in the comfort of the stillness you open your shell a bit.  you find a soft solid platform, a palm beneath you, and you open more still, stretching your legs in the comfort of their calm, in the shadow of their body,  not realizing you are being held so gingerly by something so much bigger than yourself.  

this is the story of a love, the love that saved me, a love for today and for all the days to come.


running out

today, it seems that i've run out of ideas.  and things to say.  i've also run out of watercolor paper.  and filtered water.   and energy.  and daylight.  yeah, i'm pretty sure i've run out of some other stuff too.   like excuses, perhaps.  time to make a list, check it twice, giddy-up and run some errands.   looking forward to tomorrow.   i'll leave today's soliloquy up to the expert:

Like most of the others, I was a seeker, a mover, a malcontent, and at times a stupid hell-raiser. I was never idle long enough to do much thinking, but I felt somehow that my instincts were right. I shared a vagrant optimism that some of us were making real progress, that we had taken an honest road, and that the best of us would inevitably make it over the top. At the same time, I shared a dark suspicion that the life we were leading was a lost cause, that we were all actors, kidding ourselves along on a senseless odyssey. It was the tension between these two poles - a restless idealism on one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other - that kept me going.    
 -Hunter S. Thompson


to travel

i've never really traveled much.  it's one of those things i could never afford.  i've been a working girl since i was just sixteen, making pizzas and selling books to help support myself.  in college, i always had a job nannying or waiting tables to pay for food, rent and tuition. i could never seem to save enough money to go anywhere substantial, and so i didn't, settling for a simple life.  once, i went on a road trip across the country, to a louisiana military base to visit a newly enlisted friend. driving that long haul with four stinky others, eating cold beans from cans, crammed like sardines into a tiny geo metro hatchback, i must say i was partly miserable almost all of the time.  and although it was memorable, the visits to area 51 and roswell, sleeping in desert truck stops, driving through torrential desert lightning storms, adopting three smelly dogs abandoned at a gas station... it wasn't an experience i would like to repeat.

sometimes my lack of worldly experience just makes me feel downright pathetic.  like, i'm such a loser.   everyone has been to europe, right?  i've only seen it in pictures.  and everyone has been to mexico.  i've heard about it in stories that my friends and family tell.  hell, the only time i left the good old U S of A was on a trip from bellingham to canada, but that was really only an adventure to get drunk when i was underage, and i poured a beer on some dirtbag's head and vowed i'd never return.  so you could see why this simple girl might feel a little troubled.

there have been a few moments of consolation for my wanderlust imagination. once was when my folks went to mexico for the first time.  upon their return, my mother was quite disturbed. truly, she was disturbed enough that she never wanted to go back.  upon further questioning, she said it was the extreme poverty that she found most disconcerting.  as a middle class american lady, donning khaki pedal pushers and teva sandals, out to see the ruins and beaches and culture and have a good time, her compassion and guilty conscience couldn't allow her to have fun in the shadow of inequity.  i understood, and it quieted my urge to travel.

yesterday, when i read an interview with painter christopher mir, i had a solid moment of reconciliation with myself.  as a painter, i sometimes feel as if i've traveled to far off places just by studying an image, by divulging in the details, by immersing myself in my work, and by traveling in my imagination.  can't that just be enough?

"I’m really devoted to this room. That is the escapism part. I don’t take these pictures... That’s not something I’m interested in doing...For my purposes, I really just want to play with these images. Going there definitely has appeal, but I’m some form of mutant monastic. I do this contemplative work in this little building and it’s very satisfying. It’s very cliché, but the universe is within. That’s the place to go. Even if you do travel to the far reaches you’d still have to go in there and react and feel light and have it sink in."  -christopher mir



i really never know what i'm going to write before i write it.  and so it always amazes me when someone says, (as joel brock said crossing the street today), "you're quite the writer."  i'm truly flattered.  and actually, i don't even really believe the words could possibly be true.  for starters, i never even fancied myself a writer.   i maybe considered myself  to be the opposite of a writer.  i've always failed miserably at keeping any sort of diary.  my poetry borders on pathetic: too self-absorbed, too whiny, too immature, and too literal.  and my songwriting, well that is just plain naive, an accidental mimicry of the songs i learned first, the cheesy sing-alongs from methodist church camp and the doo-wop oldies my mom and i sang harmonies along to in the car.  i've always thought of myself as a visual person, an inarticulate but creative artist-type.  but lately, the writing has been good for me.  i've been venting, approaching it as if i were in a personal, tell-all conversation with whoever...oh, maybe oprah... in a stream-of-consciousness way.  i'm balls to the wall, with very few edits.  and maybe, like so much of life, that's why it reads easy, maybe that's why it works for people:  it's impulsive, it's human, and it's instinctual.

in the same vein, i never even imagined in my wildest dreams i would be a drummer.  i played guitar since i was thirteen, but singing about how many roads a man could possibly walk down or what i would do if i was a hammer never seemed to get me anywhere.  i am no better today than i was at thirteen.  but at least i'm a decent strummer.  and maybe that's because i've always been a dancer.  not a great one, but rhythmic.  i remembered the steps, the kick-ball-changes and the jazz squares, and i wore the sequined outfits and performed in the mall courtyards on holidays.  yes, i've been a performer since i was just a girl, and it's still in there.  and so a year into my adventure into drumming, it's all beginning to click.  listening to the recordings of our practice tonight, i can hardly believe that's me in there, keeping the beat, the words of mr. will canepa echoing in my head.  "you're a fucking metronome!" he said, and strangely, i'm beginning to agree.



i learned how to sew when i was ten from my aunt june.  she and her husband earl are ninety-four years each.  they have been my surrogate grandparents nearly my entire life.  i spent every sunday at their house, eating homemade peach, apple or pumpkin pie, watching america's funniest home videos. i also spent every holiday and holiday eve with them as well.  so today, i was thinking of them as i plugged in their camera to print some photos of my last visit.  during my last visit, i drove to their house with a peach pie and some ice cream, for old times' sake, and we sat and chatted over tea. uncle earl drinks his with a straw because his hand jitters so, his shaking is such that it's a miracle that a bite ever reaches his mouth.  aunt june rambles from topic to topic, barely stitching the thoughts together, elated to have the opportunity to get them out.  we sort through some garage sale remnants,  i take some things mostly to lighten their load, plus a couple of heirlooms that aunt june has saved for me: the side table that uncle earl built in 1912 at whatcom middle school, and his father's wooden chair, the chair he sat in after his stroke, persistently rubbing the side of his face that was paralyzed....until the feeling came back.  i loaded the truck with my treasures, tarped and tied the load, honking the customary double-honk-wave as i drive away.  they're waving back, grinning from ear to ear, standing whitehaired in their driveway in that worn out golf course cul-de-sac.  there they stand, older than the tall trees in their yard.  uncle earl won't even remember my visit an hour after i've left.  nevertheless, it made their day, and so it made mine as well.

i took their digital camera with me to print the pictures, because i knew they have no idea how to use it.  scrolling through the photos, i found a video that proves my point.  its uncle earl, sitting in a chair, posing for a photo.  the camera is filming for several minutes as aunt june struggles to figure out why the flash won't go.  she hands it to earl to see if he can figure it out; the footage that follows from his shaking hands feels like a ten point earthquake.  it's hilarious and sad at the same time. they're adorably ignorant of technology and so innocently attempting to understand.  the things that once seemed a breeze are now impossible.  aunt june can't work her new digital toaster oven, or her new digital sewing machine. but for some reason she still feels the need to "upgrade", only to find the progress of human technology useless, confusing and debilitating.

since they had no idea how to use the camera, they also had no idea how to delete old photos.  so, of course, there are hundreds, dating back to when they originally bought it.  maybe i should have known better, but i looked through them all.  and there she is, smiling that familiar cheeky grin, smiling back at me: my mom.  it's still a gaping mystery to me, a horrible inequity, how she could live to only fifty-five, while aunt june and uncle earl, seemingly ageless, have a ways to go at ninety four.  alas, some of life's mysteries will never be solved.  when i start to feel the sadness creep in, i try to harken the words of a wooden plaque my mom posted in the outhouse at our cabin:  

Don't take life too seriously.  You'll never get out alive anyways.


back again

reserved for p. senter
well, it's official: i'm back in the saddle.  after seventy-two days of painting watercolor, and a near year reprieve from oil painting, today i did it.  i pulled out the oils to start work on a couple of commissioned pieces.  i dug out the proper ingredients from their respective boxes, poured the seductively smooth and golden galkyd light together with the linseed oil and mineral spirits into my trusty tapatio hot sauce bottle. i wiped the rubbery hardened medium off of the threads and screwed on the red cap, turning it upside down and around like mixing a bottle of salad dressing.  i opened the window;  the odor was strangely familiar, and strikingly pungent, ventilation a must.  i examined my old oil paint tubes:  capless, encrusted, thrown haphazardly into boxes, wrinkled up impatiently after working themselves too hard.  i picked out the salvageable ones, wiped the hardened globs into a rag, and squeezed up from the bottom until the pure soft pigment arose from a long slumber.  i flipped my glass palette, revealing the underside of a million mixtures from paintings long gone, and  smudged a station for each color onto the slick surface: raw umber, burnt sienna, pthalo blue, yellow ochre, titanium white.  i know what these names mean, and how they blend, what they can do for me, and how to make them dance.  i poured the medium over the tiny worms of saturated color, and picked the largest, squarest, softest brush from the line of my and my mother's brush-filled jars.  roughing in the shapes, me and the canvas reacquainted, touching the water where it meets the land and the fish below the surface, the silhouette of trees and where they kiss the sky, the shadows of the eyes of the two boys and their dog.  i am home again, just like the bald eagles, in the valley again for the first time since spring, perched in their old familiar perches.  returning from a long journey,  it feels good to be back.


nice catch

9" x 12"
collection of j. reisen

some days you can taste the magic in the air.  today was one of those days.  i have a sense of things getting better, and easier.  yes, i think i can feel the ship mellow, starting to ease straight and steady after a stormy tumult.  it's a major relief to the captain and her crew.  together, we weathered the storm.  and now, for the much deserved calm.  but first, a brief list of a few of the things that made today wonderful (in no particular order):

baby enzo was born, or is born, or is in the process of being born.  

iris adopted purdy the widowed cat.  purdy loves her new cush pad.  iris sent me a photo of purdy the no-longer widowed cat, first thing in the morning, curled up sleeping sound.  both individuals are happy with their new situations.

wiley and nathan, two eager young boys, visited me in the store.  i sent them on a mission to secretly tag people with clothespins.  wiley and nathan returned from mission covered in clothespins from head to toe (lips, ears, noses and glasses included).  two clothespin-covered boys enthusiastically posed for photos by heather.  same two boys wearing two fake fur mustaches (that heather mysteriously unearthed from her pocket) posed for more photos.  

watched james piece together fishing spinners in the morning over tea by the woodstove.  painted three of those spinners for today's painting.  james then caught two giant wild silver salmon with aforementioned spinners from the samish river.  afterward, james returned two live wild silvers to said river.  

 went for a brisk walk in the dusky fog.  cooked dinner in a clean kitchen



my mother loved pomegranates. so does james. and now that i know how to eat them, so do i. i was overjoyed to see the first few at the co-op the other day. small, humbly covered with bruises and scars, they don't look like much. at first glance, the fruit can seem intimidating, rugged, uninviting and time consuming. but almost like an old trucker with that tough exterior, inside lies true sweetness. peel it apart, and behold the beauty and mystery of nature. containing a fractal of a thousand faceted jewels of the brightest ruby red, which behold the deepest blood sweet tangy juice, the pomegranate is a gift of bounty for a time when the weather shifts and the cold turns us inward. peeling those seeds delicately from their skin, i begin to realize the virtues of patience, diligence, and persistence.


by Hilda Morley

My chin is stained with the dark-red
pomegranate juice
This autumn I have eaten pomegranates
knowing their seeds were symbols
of a rebirth
All night we were close to death
All night death lived with us
We have been living death
too long now
How many months is it?
I have walked often along the river
evenings face wet my hands in my pockets
staring at the late sunset & the haloed lights
of boats moving slowly
stately in the fog
beyond all misery




today's mantra for the tomorrows to come: creating new solutions to old problems. living for the future but not in the future. loving the past for what it was. loving what is. loving one's self. becoming better, stronger, wiser and braver. healing old wounds.

this is a coin from my dear friend john simon. the back reads:

great spirit
whose voice i hear in the wind
whose breath gives life to the world
hear me
i come to you as one of your many children
i am small and weak
i need your strength and wisdom
may i walk in beauty



lets just get one thing straight: i'm afraid of heights. as a child, every time i came too close to the edge somewhere my mom would snap with a retort, some terrifying example of a kid who got too close and whoops! now he's dead or paralyzed or all screwed up because he fell in or off or slipped or tripped. so it's not just that i'm simply afraid of heights; i'm mostly afraid of falling. and it's not just me i'm afraid for. i'm afraid for other people at heights too. you know, it's almost worse, watching someone else all up high, leaning over a railing, on top of a tipsy tall ladder, or balancing precariously here or there. i mean, truly, actually, i think it's way worse. so today, when our shed roof was nearing completion, with my little work crew consisting of james, allan and matthew climbing around up there like confident marsupials, conducting the surgery of surgeries, balancing like tightrope walkers over the crest of slick new red metal roofing, it was all i could do to stay busy. i was like frozen. like, i couldn't keep my eyes off of them. i couldn't cook them my usual camp cook meals, i struggled to cut the tar paper i was supposed to be cutting... all of my attempts to be productive were futile. i could barely go inside to stoke the fire and relieve myself. i just kept hollering the motherly "be careful", with a worried side of, "maybe you should tie up", meditating all the while on a successful, uninjured return to safer ground.

now, tonight, it's all over. by the seat of our pants and weeks from when we undertook the project of projects, all fear of heights aside, it's done: that monolithic rotten roof is repaired, and this old building is one step further from rotting into the earth. i'm so proud of my guys. you did it.



collection of darren hanlon

today, i would like to thank you. for being the reason to paint. for appreciating what i do. for making it worthwhile. for keeping me motivated. for being yourself. for being uniquely you. for being my friend. what an amazing gift.

dreamin just comes natural like the first breath from a baby,
like sunshine feedin daisies, like the love hidden deep in your heart.

john prine




it was one of those surreal moments where everything stops. at dinner last night, there's a man at the table across the room, over six feet tall and sturdily built, surrounded by ten of his friends. he stands suddenly. in an eerie silence, everyone around him stands suddenly. the man next to him wraps his arms around his midsection and thrusts his fists in.
his wife holds her face, pursed in fear. he wraps his arms around more tightly still, and thrusts again. out comes a hunk of bread, shot across the room like a baseball. the choking man stops choking, slumps down in his chair, a long string of drool hanging from his chin. everyone sits, and tries to exhale. his wife gingerly wipes his face, his brow. a few awkward minutes go by, the man looks around the room, embarrassed. everyone in the room pretends they didn't even notice, and go on with their dinners. dessert comes. life goes on.

dear friends: remember to chew.


good times

reserved for j. turic

it's that time of year again. my livelihood takes a turn, and i get a few requests for commissioned paintings that will make the perfect christmas gift for that special so and so. it may sound cheesy, but its the bread and butter of many a painter. these projects are so individual and specific, they provide a healthy challenge. usually the work is representational, mostly portraits, perhaps a dog or cat in the mix, often times from a childhood photo yellowed by the years, or of a building that marks a special occasion or favorite memory. all in all, i love these times, i love that i can do these paintings, i love that these projects are so personal and full of meaning.

this is little jimmie turic preparing for a swim. he commissioned the piece as a gift for his mom. jimmie told me he would like to harness the energy of this little kid in the photo: ready for anything, here for the experience, and fully committed to having a good time.



so this is the story as told by joel: a flicker, it hits a window like so many birds do and falls to the deck at austin's place on the slough. this flicker is a magnificent brown and grey woodpecker with black spots and bright redand yellow details. anyways, austin wasn't sure what to do with it, and didn't know if it was injured or not, so he brings it to his neighbor joel. joel makes up a travel case with suet and worms and towels and lets the bird be, hoping for the best, dreaming of a full recovery. soon, it seems like the flicker is ready. joel takes it to his farm and opens the cage. she flies! up and away, in the direction of the big old oak tree. suddenly, bam! a coopers hawk dives down from above and takes hold. feathers fly, "noooooooo!" screams joel, arms outstretched, the scene playing out like a slow motion movie. the fearful howl startles the hawk enough to let go, he drops the flicker and joel swiftly puts the bird back in it's small sanctuary kennel.

joel told me the story, and i came to see the bird in his studio. its eyes were electric and it was snuggled in the back corner of its box, away from my curious human eyes. i promptly went home to research the food of woodpeckers. with a long sleek pointy steel beak to hammer holes in trees, i knew instinctively the diet consisted primarily of insects. i flipped over every rotten piece of wood i could find, scraped the bugs off into a jelly jar, grabbed a decaying branch for atmosphere, and headed over with my offering.

i collected food twice over the last two days, to add to the offerings joel provided. and today, just moments ago, joel decided the flicker was ready. we all gathered round, salty old dana with his eye patch, perched like a captian on his deck, overseeing the whole matter. joel opened the door...nothing. "give it a kick, joel," dana remarked. so joel rustled the box a bit, and out flew the bird, all the way across the slough and met by a fellow flicker. magic. i slapped five with joel, and we all reveled in the bird calling out and hopping from ground to branch, trying out its rusty wings for the first time in a couple days.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. ~Margaret Meade


a bone

collection of j. reisen

there was something about that certain miranda lambert song today that made me look up my childhood home. typing in "trumpeter drive, mt vernon," then clicking on zoom, pushing my arrow deep into that tiny plus sign that would sweep me closer into view and closer still to a gushing flood of memories. i wasn't even sure i would recognize the place, and i didn't, and out of longing i almost left to drive there, on a pilgrimage to find the place where i came from. i just wanted to stand there, in that cul-de-sac, on the ground where i once stood, back when the days were bright, and i was a bubbly baby with chubby cheeks trying out my own two feet for the very first time. so i could remember who i once was, young enough to still be full of optimism. i got lost somewhere, and i'm still trying to find out who i'm supposed to be.


carry on

this is your brain on two glasses of wine and a plate of the tavern's finest clam strips after an all-day shopping trip extravaganza. not your best work, not your worst. carry on.



i hate rejection. somehow, for some reason, it's inherent to the way the system functions. for every person that receives an award, there are thousands of people who don't. in my eyes, this is just wrong. it kills self-esteem, it discourages, it humiliates. it starts when we're little kids, and it continues on and on and on. my brother, when he was just a little kid, kept a ledger in his tiny toy safe of awards that i'd won versus awards that he'd won. the scales weren't balanced, it was self-destructive, it wasn't fair to his ego at all. it was a symbol of an unjust system, the competitive dynamic for approval throughout our childhood, throughout our lifetimes. in my perfect utopia, everyone does what they're best at, and they aren't judged or rewarded by anyone but themselves. in this perfect world of mine, there's no greater than or less than. there are no expectations. everyone is recognized for their individual gifts.

i recently applied for a grant. i worked really hard on it, i had a great idea and i felt that i articulated it well. i was among hundreds of the best artists of washington state who applied, and i was rejected. when i got the customary email saying sorry, nice try, i cried. it's not that the money or the recognition are so important to me.
but it certainly bruised my ego. it teleported me right back to my 19-year-old self, and the day i got the letter of rejection from western's art department. that letter said, more or less, you're not good enough to study art here. coming from a public school, where i thought education would be equal opportunity, i was insulted, angered, and hurt. so i worked my ass of, and i tried again, and the second time i got admitted. but i never forgave, and i never forgot.

Today, i scoured the grant winners. I wanted to see firsthand what they had and i didn't. and of course, humbled, i was able to glean some inspiration. congratulations to me.

"I think all great innovations are built on rejections." Louise Ferdinand Celine


a breakthrough

there's something funny that happens when i spend the day busy with other things and then oops! the day is done and i'm altogether too tired. still, i have my painting to do. i whine and i piss and moan about it, and i feel so tired i can barely keep my body in a vertical position. and then i pick something simple without much deliberation, and i barrel through it. ironically, usually this gives me my favorite results. call it sloppy, call it loose, call it gestural, call it impatient, call it rushed. call it what you will. could it be that my best work is done when i'm running out of time, in a hurry, or totally exhausted? perhaps, i may just now be realizing. when i was a student, i was so preoccupied with my personal life that i forgot to do the work for one of my final critiques. i wasn't winning awards or impressing my prof much, and so i loathed painting because i felt i wasn't getting anywhere. the night before, i brought my boyfriend up to the studio with me and i impatiently tossed something out in an hour. it was still wet when i brought it to critique the next day, but much to my surprise, the teacher loved it, he picked it out above all the others, he made it the example of what to do. finally, a breakthrough

Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.
Carl Jung



“After one look at this planet any visitor from outer space would say ''I want to see the manager." ” William S. Burrows

At some point this summer, i was in what i might consider to be the best athletic shape of my life. I was running three miles every other day and filling in the other days with yoga. I know running is hard on the old bones, and some people say it can cause as much injury as benefit, but i ran as much for the scenery as for the exercise. My ritual was to run one mile to the river, stretch, run a half mile out to the iris farm, then run back. My route, incidentally, is what i consider to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. Its not unusual for me to see hawks, falcons, ducks, geese, cormorants, songbirds, river otters, salmon and deer, all in one half-hour interval. the intensity of the visual experience heightens the senses and charges my battery. But a couple of months into my routine, it all came to an abrupt halt.

It was a bad week, maybe. followed by another bad week. maybe the odds were all off. but every time i went running, i was witness to some measure of unpleasant carnage. it started with dead birds in the road, the birds that had already been hit long before i found them.
a pheasant, mallard ducks, goldfinches, and more. each time i saw one, i'd stop my run, pick it up gingerly, stroke its feathers, take a good look, soak up the intensely precious beauty, say a little prayer and give it a resting place proper somewhere in the grass. but then, one day, it was live. the first time, it was a pair of flirting kamikaze robins. i stopped my run at the liquor store, picked up a box, and carried them home for a funeral. next, a bird collision with a windshield, right in front of me. the bird was flung lifeless through the air, my legs went numb and i struggled to bounce back. it was followed by the bird who hovered over the remains of his buddy in the road. as if to commit suicide, he stumbled directly under the tire of a minivan, and i heard the crunch. i promptly quit running, and tried to brainstorm an activity that involved less brutality. according to studies, autos kill 50-100 million birds a year. i wonder: am i the only one who notices this kind of stuff? and paranoid, i now slow down for birds while i'm driving. my passengers tease me about it, but it sure beats the alternative.


thumbs up

inspired by the lavishly colorful and expressive portraits of jeremy okai davis, i decided that today's painting would be a portrait, modeled after a little photo of gunther i have pinned to the wall at my table easel. it's a photo i look at every day, taken back in the old days, when the lucky dumpster first opened and the sparsely filled shelves were red and green. those days, gunther was spending a lot of time in edison helping wes & andy remodel their building into a gallery while living in his van. gunther would work his ass off, dry-walling or sanding or doing whatever kind of grueling manual labor to make a buck, and he'd come over often and we'd eat meals together and walk the dog and sit around campfires like good friends do. gunther always lived like a gypsy. he always had a positive attitude, and was uncompromising in his lifestyle choices. he lived without fear, and for the sake of fun, and for the love of his friends. i look at this image of gunther every day, in it he's grinning that trademark crooked grin, giving me and you and everyone in the world the proverbial "thumbs up". this image makes me smile, rubs a little gunther off on me, giving me the confidence to get through another one and keep on laughing. i miss you gunther. boy do we all. you were a great ball of fire.



reserved for t. north

i can't help but love sunday nights at the edison. it's not a young crowd, or a particularly stylish crowd. but man, do they dance. it's more stimulating than any kind of television i've seen, and it's pretty much the best people watching to be found. you'll see every kind of dancing style properly represented, and every person's face beaming with that rare sort of youthful enthusiasm. sure, i've been known to cut a rug a time or two, and i love to dance with the older fellas who know how to spin a lady proper. tonight, with the help of some zydeco rhythyms, i did a high kick and a dip and a spin and a shake, along with some newfangled kind of entangled waltz. and i loved every minute of it.


these boots

so what's in a shoe? many an artist paid their due to a shoe or two. warhol got his start illustrating shoes, for example. van gogh & thiebaud painted shoes. and due to some strange habit, i find that i always look at someone's shoes when i first meet them. it seems to me that shoes, of all things, can say a lot about a person. shoes can tell you whether a person is athletic, or if they like to walk through mud puddles, if they've just mowed the grass, or if they work in an office. shoes can tell you if a person likes hip hop or country music, if they are rich or poor, if they are a sloppy painter, if they ride motorcycles, or if they are a skateboarder who can ollie. they can tell you if a person walks a lot, or a little, or if they're old or young, in fashion or just plain out-of-style. i find this notion fascinating. when my friend john simon passed away, i inherited two pairs of his shoes, brown slip-on loafers covered in little tiny splatters of every which kind of color of paint. they speak to his fury and passion for paint, and they're some of my most precious possessions. and since i moved to the stix and my tired old feet started hurting, i've been extra shoe conscious on the home front. i find myself prioritizing utility over aesthetic, flat over heel, and cushion over fashion. how my collection of "granny shoes" has grown! and so, considering my forty or so pair of second hand sneakers, boots, galoshes, mary-janes, clogs and sandals, i wonder what someone would say of me at first glance.

these here ropers pictured above were traded to me by my dear friend karie jane who, mind you, is just as shoe crazy as i. she coveted a pair of snazzy white wingtips i found while thrifting, and i relented. but as far as i'm concerned, i think we both traded up.

"What becomes of the broken hearted? They buy shoes."
Mimi Pond



reserved for c. jepson

lacking inspiration, feeling wrung out like a dirty dishcloth, i asked james what i should write about tonight. he said smugly, "the happiest most joyous thing you can think of. " perhaps that was a response to my surly mood. so what, said i, maybe i'm coming down with a cold. i feel all funny and grouchy and tired and boggy.

here it is folks (insert drum roll): the truth is, i was stumped. i, for the life of me, couldn't even think of what the happiest most joyous thing could possibly be. i mean, really. come on. seriously? just then, as if mr. universe himself was answering my call, max the cat (aka. maxi-pads, max-a-million, max-a-covious) started swatting a leaf around in an aggressively acrobatic manner on the floor. he quickly moved on to bigger and better things, attacking my shoes, grabbing one and rolling onto his back, kicking with both hind legs, and then pouncing up, using them as a blind to attack the crumpled tissue in front of them. i laughed out loud, and let out a sigh of exasperated surrender. my cats, i love them, they make me happy, they are so ridiculous they make me laugh out loud, they make my day, every day. every stinkin day.