lately, i've been enjoying watching the dynamic between my two cats. they haven't known each other very long, and for a while they did little more than tolerate each other. at first, they kept a safe distance, every once in a while scuffling over food, access to the kitchen, catnip, cat toys, access to our dinner, or attention. and then slowly i noticed the change: hanging out in the same room together, pretending not to notice each other, like coy middle school crushes. when we first got the kitty condominium, they diplomatically took turns sleeping inside, getting used to each others scent. and when i put out the laundry basket full of blankets, they did the same. when we got those matching blue chairs in the studio, they each quickly adopted their own respectively, chachie choosing the feminine chair with the embroidered flower pillow and violet throw, and max with the more masculine red checkered wool blanket and earth-tone cat-patterned pillow. sometimes, they would switch beds. now that we have the couch, they share it, each taking their own end, and sometimes, accidentally, nearly touching. they're finally getting comfortable with each other, and beginning to fall in love.
i was sad to see my brother and dad go. for two days, they were all that mattered, and all of us together, we were a family again. and so i almost cried today, standing there waving them away down the long highway corridor, me and james in true ma-&-paw fashion, on the curb in front of our primer-white barn. i miss them, those boys of mine, since i moved away. i don't get to see them near as much as i would like to, as much as i used to. i forget how funny they are, slapstick, how easy to be around they are. two peas in a pod, father and son, cut from the same cloth, yet different in all the right ways. they make me laugh, those boys do, from the gut i laugh. they help me remember who i am, and where i came from. quality time with my boys is precious, and something i could not live without.
so today's one-a-day is in oil. i didn't have time to do a watercolor today. it's a small painting, and it's the last painting for my show at the world famous old-town-cafe, and i did it in its entirety today. i've been working too hard, and the delirium is beginning to set in. although i've been enjoying the intensive refresher into productivity, i'm reeeally looking forward to a few days off. tomorrow, we frame, and tuesday, i hang. and then...knitting, hiking, gardening, sewing, cooking. for a few days, at least, anything but painting.
well heelllooo there, spring, you're officially peeking those sneaky eyes of yours around the corner. i saw them today, little green shoots bursting through the black mud, sure as hell signifying the first signs of daffodils. the barren black branches of trees are just beginning to bud in tender little colored shoots. the dog and cats are molting tufts of undergrowth hair everywhere, giving us the hair in our food in our mouths and in our nostrils kinds of allergies. and it's warm enough to just wear a sweater outside without long-johns a stocking hat and a jacket. although the warmth is a much welcome reprieve from chilly old man winter, i've been fooled before with a head-fake of a season change. yes, sometimes february surprises us, with snow and ice storms, burning all the new leaves black and killing those optimistic budding blooms. how those plants somehow, mistakenly, got the wrong memo, lord only knows.
if we should happen to get more winter, at least we're all stocked up on firewood round here. in fact, our backyard looks like an artful firewood installation. even our temporary fence is made of firewood. we're pretty much firewood collectors. yep, around here, with those wood stoves pumping, it sometimes reaches eighty degrees, hot cats sprawled out on the ground like its a tropical beach.
i hang my show this coming tuesday. i've completed three new paintings in a week and a half, and hopefully will polish off two more by the end of tomorrow. i'm a fast painter, but i wasn't sure if i could do it: i knowingly bit off more than i could chew, yet i work the very best under pressure. i'm really trying to take my time with these pieces, and not rush through them, working full days, barely squeezing it all in, patiently watching them transform and allowing them to develop in stages of several layers. getting back into oils after a long hiatus, it seems i can become confused and overwhelmed easily. i'm attempting to leave these pieces impressionistic, with less refined detail, and lots of background color showing through. with more emphasis on the abstract nature of paint, these busy compositions read well from a ways back and look like ecstatic blobs of confetti close up. i've always loved the idea that the viewer's mind fills in the blanks, adds detail, and makes assumptions. it's not just a painting, it's a dialogue. and although i can paint in a fairly realistic way, photo realism becomes boring to look at. why not just take a photo? i'd rather not always rely on refined detail or accuracy to impress the viewer.
this is my first art show in who knows how long. for a long time after mom died, it was too painful to paint. after years of painting prolifically, after doing large paid commissions, installations and commissions, after showing almost monthly at restaurants and shops all over portland, i stopped completely. because painting, it was just salt in the wound. life was so complicated and stressful, and i was traumatized. it was impossible to be creative, let alone optimistic. i wasn't sure if i'd ever feel good enough to get back on my feet.
this time around, my paintings are all about joy. i've gathered my favorite images together from some of my most cherished national geographic books, and appropriated them into my paintings. these images often get lost, hidden inside the covers of obsolete and dated books hiding on thrift store shelves. my self-proclaimed job as a painter is to excavate these images, bring them back to life, to make them larger than life and immortalize them. the images exude the human energy of togetherness, they are on fire with the brightest colors, full of life. i've been more subdued about my palette in the past, but living in a dreary grey landscape you start to crave color like a strong cup of coffee. with these images as my muse, it's been a tonic to paint. because you can't really look at them without smiling. yes, i suppose that's what i'm trying to do here. i can't afford not to. i think that's why i make art at all. ask me for a statement, and i'll say: i just want to make people happy. it's not flowery, and it probably wouldn't fly in some intellectual art arenas. but to me, a joy shared is a joy doubled. to me, that's all there is. after what i've been through, i can't afford to do it any other way.
i remember coming home to the overwhelming smell of spray paint. that's what it was like sometimes, living with a graffiti artist: everything is a potential canvas, even their bedroom door. and everything can be painted over, buffed. and after a while, they can't really smell the paint anymore, or it doesn't bother them, the fumes just become a part of their "aura" i suppose. it's on their pants, and jackets, and hands, and shoes. and you get used to seeing the scrawl in unexpected places, practice tags on junk mail, pipes in the basement, trim, random electronics, even on the hot water heater.
i've always loved graffiti, a so-called foamer. living with a prolific graffiti artist was an eye opening exposure to the extremist lifestyle. they appear to be almost completely nocturnal. you go to sleep, the artist wakes up, makes some calls, swoops some friends, rolls out to the spot. the day begins.
i went out to paint a couple of times, just for fun. the first time was at an industrial train yard, a dark, abandoned, low-profile spot that the boys frequented. i was giddy with excitement. the guys carried a junky old boombox, cigarettes and some forties in brown bags, a high-powered flashlight, and backpacks full of cans. those rattle cans made so much noise clanging around i was sure we were going to get caught. when we got to our destination, a blank train car just far enough away from the road, they turned on the boombox, everyone took their places and started. watching them paint was fascinating. in a state of intense meditation, with the hiss-hiss-hiss of the cans, it took at least an hour to complete each piece, requiring the utmost in focus and a steady hand.
i wore the wrong shoes of course, some goofy mary-jane platforms, which didn't bode well for the large gravel of the train yard. when someone yelled "5-O!", the adrenaline shot through my body. we all ran in different directions, me just barely not breaking an ankle on my way to somewhere behind a spiky bush, only to find out that whoever called police really cried wolf to get my goat. i tried to hide my embarrassment, but i was really freaked out, all nervous and shaky. not cut out for the game, i guess.
i've heard lots of stories: police chases, guns pulled, dog chases, apartment raids, hanging from overpasses, shit-pants, caught on film, trapped in a train cars, years in prison, court dates, warrants, strip clubs, fights, blackouts, drug running, crew wars and turf wars. i've heard a lot, i've seen a lot, but it's only a fraction of what really happens out there. it's a tough crew, but they almost always have hearts of gold, a love of the art and an affinity for the adrenaline high. graffiti is not just an art form, it's a dedication: to living outside the box, to pushing the boundaries of legality, to self-expression, to leaving a mark, and to changing the landscape.
"the people who run our cities don't understand graffiti because they think nothing has the right to exist unless it makes a profit... the people who truly deface our neighborhoods are the companies that scrawl giant slogans across buildings and buses trying to make us feel inadequate unless we buy their stuff.... any advertisement in public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours, it belongs to you , its yours to take, rearrange and re use. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.."
marry a guy with a dog, you inevitably end up marrying the dog too. i was pondering this notion the other day over dinner, when looking at james' wrist tattoo, a star with the numbers delineating our wedding date. it will be seven years this august, seven years we've been married, ten altogether if you consider the few years we were together before we got hitched. gosh, that's a long time, a third of my life to be exact. marriage is more challenging than anyone will ever tell you it is, but we've worked really hard to persevere through all the really hard stuff, to compromise and weather the storms, those storms that many a divorce are made of. these days, marriage is comfortable, and natural, and seems perfect, like it will last forever. it's a relief, like finding that one gas station on the loneliest highway in the world. reflecting upon all the times we've had together, the good times and bad times, just me james and this brown dog, a little team inseparable, i could not be more grateful. so daily, hobbling along on our religious walks with our precious and elegantly-old lady of fifteen (that's close to 90 in human years!), i say to myself, dog, i've known you for over half of your life. there is a comfort in the familiarity of knowing someone so long, and waking up every day to see that someone's face, however speckled with gray it may be. yesterday, when she kissed my face, one of the very few times it's ever happened, i knew she was saying i love you, mom. warmed my heart right up.
my mom told me once that i was too heavy handed with my watercolors. she tended to say exactly what i didn't want to hear, and that's what i loved about her: brutal motherly honesty. i've thought about her critique several times on my journey into learning watercolors. the other day, i was looking at one of her paintings, just to try and figure out what she meant. the watercolor i was examining in particular is a painting of a group of hippopotamuses floating in the water. it's a complex composition based on a tiny magazine clipping, which she taped to the back. just the eyes and ears and nostrils of the animals peek out of the water, and the bodies look like big rocks. the animals are purplish-grey and their bodies reflect ever so slightly in the turquoise water. it's a complicated painting, and it shows my mom's true mastery of the watercolor technique. in it, i can see some of the techniques she taught me as a little girl, like the splatter, salt texture, and bleed. she did so much watercolor as an illustrator that she ended up loathing it, moved on to oils and never looked back. but she was good. really good.
what i gathered from this painting is that a light hand means a confident brush stroke. i have tendency to smoosh and overblend, to blot and add and subtract, and so i generally overwork my paintings. i remember a professer telling me once that a good painter should get the most impact out of a painting with fewer, more confident and expressive brush strokes. there was always a stopping point in a painting, and a good painter knew how far to go, and when to stop. it's a fragile balance, but when you see it in a painting it is unmistakable. true mastery is obvious, and doesn't hide behind gimmicks. sumi-e painting is like that. it's goal is to captures the essence, the chi or "life force" of a thing in so few strokes. it has been said that this type of painting is a high form of spirituality. but it is also extremely difficult, and doesn't come without diligent practice, utmost focus and concentration.
The one mindedness of a brush master was seen as a comparable state as that of a composed warrior on the battlefield. As one writer put it, “for the swordsman, composure on the brink of battle had its artistic parallel in the calm and tranquility essential before the fearless release of a brush stroke.” (from the Outsider Japan article on Sumi-e)
yes, i only hope that after a year of painting every day i am a little bit closer to channeling my inner warrior.
some days, more than others, even the simplest tasks seem insurmountable. sometimes, i just don't feel like painting a masterpiece, or tending the fires, or making breakfast lunch and dinner. i might drag my feet and go through the motions, without that essential spring in my step. because not all days are created equal. you have to make room for the ebb and flow of life. on those days when things are a little off, it's good to pick up and leave your shell for a spell, it feels good to go sit somewhere you've never sat before and take in the scenery. give yourself a moment to reset. you can stretch, go for a walk, drink a big glass of water, take a shower... but you must do something. yes, sometimes you have to press the reset button. because that thing just doesn't press itself. it takes a lot of work to be happy.
|every morning from bed, long before i'm awake, i hear him chopping kindling for the fire.|
collection of david mahlum
sometimes you just have to cry. you have to. you have to let it all out, or the stress will eat your insides. i've cried some mighty rivers in my life. i know what it's like to be sad; it's as inevitable as the northwest rain. we're all sad sometimes, and angry and stressed out and overwhelmed and tapped dry. so why are we, as a culture, so afraid of crying? when you cry, when you really cry, you can feel the release, the tension and the anxiety and all of the shards of your broken heart, you can feel them floating, lifting out of you, through your muscles and further still through your skin, through the top of your head, tickling the hair follicles on their way out. it's a release, crying is, from all the things you have bottled up and bottled together just to make yourself seem okay to the outside world. and once you've released a little steam, you feel renewed. you can get back to life, get back into rhythm again. researchers have found that tears actually contain stress hormones, the same nasty hormones that wreak bloody havoc on your brain and every other precious system in your body, the same hormones that could possibly cause long term damage and disease. seeing as how the body is comprised mostly of water, it does make some sense. how else were those nasty feelings supposed to get out, but through your tears? so do it. all together now: go ahead and have a good cry. for your health.
this is a vertebrae from a minke whale that died and washed up onto the banks of the edison slough some years ago. you could smell the rotting carcass from over a mile away. one day, gunther took the scumdinger, his trusty yellow sailboat, and in true pirate fashion, went on a mission to photograph and inspect the whale. as the carcass decayed further and dispersed back to the ocean, he went back to salvage some bones. someone had already made off with the skull and jawbone, so he grabbed a few vertebrae and gave them to his friends. we're lucky to have this beautiful bone, not only as a reminder of the mystical vastitude of life beneath the water's surface, but also as a reminder of gunther's adventurous spirit and love of the water.
this bone, along with the subjects of many of my still life paintings, is one of my many talismans. a talisman is defined by mirriam-webster as: an object held as a charm to avert evil and bring good fortune. call it voodoo, but when i surround myself with these objects, i feel better. i feel protected. it's almost as if the objects are charged. so everywhere you look around my house there's a little chotchkie, doing its work: on my dashboard, in the kitchen, in the studio...on every shelf. everywhere. and suddenly, in retrospect, i realize why i pick these objects as my subjects to paint. most often, the talismans were given to me as a gift by someone who has passed. it could be something handmade, or something old and antique with many lives lived and many stories to tell. it could be something i use everyday, and take for granted. but these talismans, all together, become a wonderful safety nest, an orb of creative positive energy. they get me through. may each painting emphasize the specialness in the object, however plain and inconsequential that object may seem, and serve as an encompassing thanks, for getting me through.
pricing one's own art is a tough one. there are so many different schools of thought. there is cheap art, and there is expensive art, and then there's everything in between. but does a higher price mean the art is of better quality? some people may be deceived.
a long long time ago, i read a little autobiography in an artbook by david choe. at the time, his work was really blowing up, going for top dollar. he had just recently made the transition from street artist to fine artist. if i remember correctly, he says he made the leap simply by adding a few zeros to the end of his original prices during one of his first big gallery shows. seemingly, his first lesson in pricing art was more or less this: if it's expensive, they will take you seriously. hmm.
this is a dilemma to me. mr. choe is unarguably a very talented artist. he started out as a graffiti artist, breaking all the rules, and making a non-commodity anti-establishment type of art. he happened to strike (or be struck) when graffiti was having a fine art-world revival. i think high prices were choe's way of telling the art buyers elite to pay up. and they did. but nowadays, the art world is so saturated with hip-hop street style, it seems to have become commercial and mainstream. and choe's own friends probably can't afford his work. so who wins?
what does the average artist, the small town artist, whose chances of making it big, are slim, do about pricing their own art? some people are likely to give themselves an hourly wage, and then keep track of time spent on a piece. some artists shoot for the sky like david choe, or base their prices on those of other similar artists. some work their way up a ladder of their own invention, gradually increasing prices over time. some have a gallery do the dirty work for them. there are just so many ways to approach pricing. what's the best? as i prepare to hang my latest oil paintings at one of the most casual, friendly, and busiest living room diners in the whole world, i've been meditating on this exact dilemma.
my prices usually reflect real time spent. to me, that's the core of being a working artist. i try not to inflate my prices just to suit my ego or money hunger. sure, i also have to pay those bills. but if i budget my time as a painter, just like anyone else who works any other regular job, it works out. truly, to me, prices are a matter of ethics. i always want my friends, who are just as broke as i am, the real people i know, the ones who have to budget and can't always go out to expensive dinners, i want them to be able to afford my work. i want them to think it is reasonably priced, i want my art to fill their homes with color and joy, and for their babies to grow up around it and learn to love it. i want my art to be for everyone: people of all socio-economic backgrounds. because i believe good art should be accessible, not just reserved for the wealthy or art-educated.
if you're anything like me, you can't get any work done unless the music is good. and when the music is good, the work follows suit. it's a strange equation. for someone that listens to music pretty obsessively, it is an unfortunate circumstance that i also tend to burn myself out on that music fairly quickly. i suppose listening to an album twenty times in a day will do that. luckily, a few websites have come to my rescue, with unlimited access to new music for the hungry listener.
pandora radio can make a pretty satisfying cocktail out of your favorite musical tastes. my favorite lately is a mix of david bowie, pavement, velvet underground, and t. rex.
daytrotter has live sessions that are available for free download. lots of bands you have and haven't heard of yet.
kexp also has gobs of live studio recordings, plus limitless radio shows to choose from, streaming at your fingertips.
pitchfork aways dishes out fresh new downloadable samples and reviews...
pitchfork aways dishes out fresh new downloadable samples and reviews...
and then there's hollow earth radio. streaming local goodies.
anything i'm forgetting?
being self employed is no small feat. in fact, when you first start out it's kind of like standing at the edge of a cliff wearing only a parachute: scary. you just don't know what's going to happen. i've had many a sleepless worried night wondering just how we were going to cover the nut. but now, looking back seven years of self-employment, i don't regret a single minute of it. today i was just as thankful as ever to be able to make my own way in this crazy money-driven world. but it does still come with it's share of struggles.
with nobody telling you what to do or when to do it, with no accountability except to yourself, sometimes it's damn near impossible to make a schedule, keep to it, or even remember what the hell you were supposed to be doing with your day in the first place. sometimes i'll find myself juggling five or ten things all at once, barely pushing each one along like boulders up a hill. and without a list, i can easily get distracted by a tempting trip to the thrift store or my neverending list of chores. but inevitably, every task must get accomplished. yes, because otherwise you'd be s.o.l., and have to get a jobby-job. the only way to be gainfully self-employed is to produce work like a machine, to make that work accessible and affordable, to make yourself love it, and to be versatile and flexible. for money, i do a lot of things: i design and illustrate and oil paint and make crafts, i paint signs and sew clothing and work in the store selling others work, i hang art professionally and make corporate art. and sometimes still, the ends barely meet. but you stretch them. you make it work. and because you trust the universe to take care of you, money magically appears when it needs to. the harder you work, the more it will continue to appear, and you will trust yourself to make the right decisions, more and more. the more you trust yourself, the more likely you are to be successful. and success, in my eyes, is not wealth or fame. it's doing what you want to do, doing what you love, doing what you were designed for...every day. and never giving money the power to control you, bog you down, or be your motivation. because joy is power, freedom is wealth, and money.....well it's just money. it is what you make of it.
that's my recipe for self-employment.
tonight, i hung my one-a-days, their thick watercolor paper clipped with black butterfly clips and hung by pin nails all in a line, on the gallery walls of the edison eye. the edison eye was the first gallery in edison, it's the only reason there is an art scene in edison. but the gallery walls have been nearly empty for a while. dana and toni ann, the owners, are the godparents of skagit valley art. they have been throwing quality shows since the seventies. they built up quite a following, and were known for the valley's best art parties, but as of late they've grown tired of the business and distracted by other things. still, they have the best space around, and i've been hopeful that they would pick up to monthly exhibits soon. and so i've been working up the courage to try and convince dana and toni ann to give me a show there. but in a semi-covert mission we (me, joel, james and david), decided instead to respectfully ambush the gallery while the mister and missus were away in mexico.
it was good to get those watercolors out of that little basket in my store where they were hiding, out into the light and organized strategically onto a nice white gallery wall. there, they seem so much more official. there, they hold their own, and seem to tell a story. there, they look beautiful. just beautiful, if i do say so myself.
it was good to get those watercolors out of that little basket in my store where they were hiding, out into the light and organized strategically onto a nice white gallery wall. there, they seem so much more official. there, they hold their own, and seem to tell a story. there, they look beautiful. just beautiful, if i do say so myself.
so i was feeling accomplished, happy as a clam as i came home to work on tonight's painting. and as i was working on that painting, i caught myself trying to grab the pencil i had just painted. the painted pencil. laughed myself silly on that one.
sometimes i turn on the hot water to make tea or a hot toddy. i commence to painting, or doing laundry, or sweeping or glancing through books, and before i know it i hear a "jess?" from the kitchen. it is then i remember, after nearly incinerating the red-hot kettle, and subsequently nearly burning down my house, that i put hot water on to boil. and boil, it did indeed. it boiled away.
i guess you could call this absent-mindedness, or distractablility. but i blame it on something else. preoccupation. there are a million things that can preoccupy a perfectly rational person. today, it all started with me waking up from a weird dream in which my late cat grey visited me as a ghost. in the dream i could tell he was a ghost because he was glowing the most radiant blue. it was a visitation. and it wasn't until i woke up from that dream that i vividly remembered grey and all of his mannerisms, how he would stretch out and show me his belly of fur, how he would let me hold him cradled like a baby, how he would rub his face incessantly against mine and lick my cheek in a show of affection. it was a lovely memory, but left me aching for my boy, and feeling distanced from reality. and so driving to the grocery store, i almost felt as if it wasn't me driving. and i forgot to eat all day. i was still back somewhere in a dream. all day, i've been stuck in a dream.
the grief of losing a loved one is like that. you can forget about it sometimes, just going about your business, rolling along. and then one day a little memory sweeps up delicately and whispers in your ear...don't forget me. you're distracted enough to crash your bike in a burning fury, and it's hard to find the courage to get back on. sometimes you have to just sit and stare at the wreckage, trying to see if you can recognize the particles of what's left. sometimes you have to sit still and be quiet, just to see if you can make sense of it all. the only thing to do is try to make something new out of what's left.
times like these, you must tell yourself:
from the ashes of death springs new life, regeneration. there's always something new. be patient. let it grow.
i remember the first time a painting really took me. i was just a third grader, and it was my mom's first day as the "picture lady" at our school. as a volunteer, a true troubadour for the arts, she came in toting her big black leather portfolio filled with large giclee prints of the masters. she pulled out the paintings one by one, talked seriously about the artists who made them, and the time periods in which they were made. she treated us respectfully, not like little kids. she showed us what made each work special, and let us know that it was within all of our reach to be able to make art like that. we were a captive audience. it was my first exposure to artists like degas, monet, van gogh, picasso, braque, renoir, warhol, hopper, o'keefe, whistler, singer sargent, johns and many others. i remember taking a fancy to van gogh's starry night, and hopper's nighthawks. it may have been the moodiness of the work, or how those pieces captured light in their own unique way. but for some reason, those formative moments of exposure to the world of fine art are forever cemented in my memory. yes, those images took my breath away as just a little girl, and are part of why i am a painter today, and why i work so hard to get better every day. when i look at art, i want to feel the way i felt when i saw my first masterpiece: awestruck. because i am hungry, as hungry as that little third grader ever was, hungry to see work that really gets to the essence of what it means to be human. i want to take in the art that makes me jealous, the art that makes me wish it was i who i had done it, the art that makes me feel, and drives me to be better. yes, i'm hungry, i want to soak it all in, soak in the art that teaches me a thing or two about what i've been overlooking all along.
oh the measure of unlimited stimuli you can access in this information age! it is pretty miraculous. the simple touch of a button can show you something that might alter your entire consciousness, that might change your life. today, my friend heather sent me a link to this video of a woman crocheting the bull on wall street...and i thought i had balls!! here i've listed a few of my favorite artistic findings. maybe you'll find something you haven't seen before. and if you're so inspired to feel like sharing, maybe you'll leave your favorite findings as a comment.
i caught a feather midair yesterday. it was in full helicopter on it's way down, it's host most likely being an allusive mourning dove (whom i did not see). just out of the corner of my eye i saw that little grey white feather twirling its way rapidly to the ground. my save felt a bit like an ultimate frisbee move, but hey, it's not everyday that you get to catch a feather midair. folklore even says it means that you've been visited by an angel. and since i know an awful lot of angels, i stuck that feather in my hat and took it as a sign of good tidings to come.
what i realize about knitting, after doing it productively for a few months, is that it is like meditation. there is a comfortable trance you go into when your hands are rhythmically tying knots over and over again. it quiets the mind and shuts the hectic world out. i've found i can go far, far away while i'm knitting. in some ways it is the most peaceful place my mind has been in a long time, a new refuge of sorts.
my favorite thing to knit so far are hats. with a hat, you just go around and around, in a spiral that eventually becomes a tube. and then you reduce. reduction is exciting because the shape of the piece starts to change as you begin to sculpt it. at the same time, you can finally see the end of the project nearing. and having the patience to finish a knitting project is a feat, in and of itself. i knew i had graduated to official knitter status when i went to the yarn store with my dad and bought my first set of bamboo double-pointed needles. knitting his hat with my own needles felt so official, the sleek and strong polished bamboo in my fingers, gently click-click-clicking like a pair of busy chopsticks. i was in heaven.
knit a hat, and you'll inevitably find yourself knitting a hat for someone. that hat becomes a meditation on that someone, and every stitch becomes a little fragment of your love for them. you can trace the distance of that love all the way back to the hands that raised the animal, the hands that sheared the wool, then brushed and spun and dyed and packaged the wool for you to buy and knit with. the magnitude of love. that is why the fateful gift of a hand-knitted sweater can be a curse in disguise, like a tattoo of your lover's name on your arm. because the time spent on that sweater can be seen as a symbol of the magnitude of someone's love, it can be a horrible curse if the sweater doesn't fit right, looks goofy, or isn't worn. like that too-big sweater james still talks about, the one that an old girlfriend painstakingly knit for him. still, there's something about me that covets a hand-knit sweater, wants to make one. i've even found a couple thrift shopping. they are unmistakable on the rack, and for a mere five to ten dollars, they've become some of my prized possessions: a real symbol of human patience, resourcefulness and love.
i've been given a few hand-knit gifts. this morning while i was knitting and was cold and needed a lap blanket, the afghan that my friend cathy made came to mind . i can only now appreciate the time it took to make that afghan, with its intricate lace pattern. she made it while my mom wasn't well, made it from hand-spun wool of my mom's favorite color, purple. i imagine her knitting, each stitch a wish, a wish for healing, thousands upon thousands of stitches coming together to create a blanket, a blanket that might envelop my mother in cathy's love, the love of friendship, the blanket that by some miracle might heal my mother and give her some comfort in a time of pain. that's what i imagined this morning, thinking of this afghan.
that blanket never made it to my mom. cathy gave it to me. but receiving it only emphasized my mom's absence, and was too painful to look at, and so for a long time i tucked it away. but today, i pulled that afghan out, and reveled in it's intricacy and beauty. and now, i understand. making that blanket must have brought cathy some peace. this morning, that blanket will keep me warm. and some day, it may keep my babies warm. because the love of a hand-knit blanket is eternal.
infuse your work with the purest intentions of love.
share your love, and that love will last forever.
oh the sights you see when you take that two-mile walk to the bow post office and back. stretching fields, shrouded in a divine blanket white, and the tree-laden hillsides flocked with snow, cuddled in thick blue-grey clouds. noble kingfisher swoops from it's home tree along the slough, does a little aerial dance, chirp-chirping all the way. big brown horse takes what little green grass i could find from my hand, and bucks his hind legs in a cheerful galloping dance as i walk away, happy to have found a friend i guess. kestrel, in a miraculous feat of aerial acrobatics, spins in a graceful dive-bomb from sky to field, as majestic golden eagle, big as me, lights from the highest branch, in flight to some destination. glad i didn't bring my headphones, the music of the birds was altogether too soothing, and not to be missed. on the one mile trek, i saw the likes of five neighbors drive by, cheerfully smiling and waving in that friendly way. it was a busy walk, a nice brisk winter walk, that walk to the post office and back with the snow crunch-crunching beneath my feet. it was a good walk, and just what i needed today.
(inspired by 365 writing prompts for creative writers)
today i laid down the first few strokes on what will be an entirely new body of large scale, oil-on-canvas paintings for my upcoming february show at the old town cafe. i am excited, because showing at the old town is always a sweet homecoming. years ago, when i was a budding art student and frying eggs as a line cook there, libby gave me my very first art show on those familiar brittle brick walls. and so february, it's come full circle, and i get to show side by side with libby, as proud entrepeneurial professionals.
i have but less than one short month to complete the work for the show, and so the pressure is on. finding the energy to do a small painting every day is one thing, but channeling the focus to paint through an entire eight-hour day, now that's something else entirely. back in my crazy days, i medicated with little wacky tobaccy. it helped me through bouts of distraction. but these days, i've gone au naturel.
with new images to work from and a renewed excitement for work, this is a chance for me to test out my skills and push myself even harder. the first two compositions i chose are among the most complicated and busiest larger pieces i have ever attempted, and so i've been a little apprehensive going into it. but today, sketching in raw umber to the mind-altering sounds of elf power, while outside the snow fell in buckets, i settled into comfortable meditative rhythm. feeling optimistic at the onset, i'm eager to see what comes of it all.
i was once a coffee drinker. man, did i drink the crap outta coffee. it all started back in middle school. i was a terrible morning person. not any kind of morning person at all. which made my dad's job of getting me off to school very difficult. it's hard to imagine he didn't get more impatient with me. i would snooze on, in spite of his wake-up efforts, until the very last minutes. i would groggily stumble out of bed, throw something haphazardly on, barely make it through a piece of toast with jelly, stumble on to the bus stop, and then be half asleep throughout my school day. then one day, dad spiked my hot chocolate with coffee. he called it a "mocha". BAM! everything changed. i was excited to wake up, eager to taste the savory sweet elixir, and hyped up about life! thus began my love affair with coffee.
as time went on, i realized i couldn't really wake up without coffee. but i didn't notice any negative side effects until way later, in college, when cumulative stress and acidic gut-rot led me at 21 to suffer my first stomach ulcer. i still didn't quit the stuff. but it spun me out, gave me anxiety, gave me the shakes, and suppressed my appetite. yet i kept on. i didn't think it was really a problem until i started getting into books about natural medicine, which told me that excessive caffeine could be a part of the adrenal exhaustion i was suffering from. yes, adrenal exhaustion, the exact opposite of that trademark coffee perkiness. so i quit the stuff, started drinking green tea, and haven't looked back.
it's ironic. first, i injure my back. then, three days later, just as i was starting to feel a little better, by some cruel twist of fate james injured his. in this role reversal, i felt wholly empathetic, having just recently gone through that unique shooting sharpness lose-your-breath kind of pain that only a pinched nerve can provide. and so today, i tried, with all my might, to bring forth the healing powers i know i possess...(those powers we all posses, if we should choose to use them.) and i felt fortunate, for the healing that has occurred in my own life, for the healing energy that james has offered me, without expectation or grudge. and for the healing together, as friends and partners, that we have worked so diligently to provide for one another. when a union works like this, when it works like it is supposed to, it softens the burdens of life. and that, my friends, is a divine gift.
yesterday, we went for a routine grocery shop, and then to the thrift store. there, i found the two exact things i was looking for, an electric blanket for our chilly dog and a large storage cabinet. leaving, driving that beige van home through the familiar old neighborhoods, and suddenly springs from nowhere, faster than lightning, the tiniest long haired chihuahua i'd ever seen. through the lawns and over the sidewalks, across one lane of traffic, he was headed straight towards our van. watch out watch out! i said, but james, having heard my co-pilot wolf cries before, didn't even flinch. he didn't see the dog, but luckily, just for good measure, he tapped his brakes, and by some divine miracle we missed the chihuahua by inches. the dog fled on, oblivious, long golden hair blowing in the wind, through the neighborhoods and across the tracks to who knows where, spared by a millisecond from a cruel death by our van tires.
one second earlier, we would have hit the poor thing, ruining my day and the dog's. one second later, we would have missed it altogether, never experiencing the close call that made us thank our lucky stars. it just goes to show you how instantly everything can change. in a moment of cosmic timing, the odds line up, and what happens seems fated. it could be as simple as running into a long lost friend at the store, or missing a train, or witnessing an accident. sometimes, is the timing in your life such that it feels unchangeable, and meant-to-be...as if there is some master scheme?
i could start by telling you all about the nutmeg in this blue mason jar. the jar has been in my mother's kitchen for as long as i knew my mother. the nutmeg, well i didn't know what nutmeg looked like until i saw it in this jar. and due to the magic of nature it magically outlasted my mother. now, like my mother, it's a memory, a physical memory, a story and a painting.
but this nutmeg and this mason jar, it's not enough. it's impossible to come up with something meaningful to write every day. yet somehow, i still try. when i first started writing this blog, the writing felt like a necessary explanation, like the art needed a voice to make it more personal. and i needed to explain myself. in the beginning, i was an idea mill. the paintings motivated the writing, the writing motivated the paintings, and the train drove itself. sometimes i would catch the sentences forming in my head, like a meandering omniscient narrative, following me gently throughout my day, orating streams of consciousness that most definitely needed to be exorcised. now, a hundred and fifty days into a crazy overdose of expression, i struggle to find the right words to say. when i do finally find them, i'm not satisfied, and can only dwell on my own failure in their lack of potency. in those instances, is it not better to say nothing at all?
creativity is like that. it is a river. it ebbs and flows. sometimes it storms, it floods, all it needs is a little push and it breaks its banks, needs out. and then sometimes, creativity is but a trickle in a drought, barely a drink at all, just a faint memory of itself. in art, as in life, i've learned it is important to become comfortable with harmony of opposites, the yin and the yang of everything. life reflects nature. and so on the days when i have nothing to offer, when i stare at the whiteness of the page and nothing but sad silence comes, it is okay i tell myself. it's natural, and part of the process. in the quietude, there always is something brewing, waiting to be unearthed.
after not touching our instruments for nearly a month, the daffodils by all means should have been a hot mess at tonight's scheduled practice. tensions were high, me with my back out, all of us knowing too well we have but three days to prepare for a holiday party we've been hired for this thursday. yet magically, we sounded pretty darn good, and magically, we played in sync, and thankfully, the songs were pretty effortless. i guess that's the way it goes when you've been playing music together for what seems like forever, when you're best friends, when you know each other all too well. sometimes, in that situation, too much practice just makes things worse, makes us grate on each other's nerves, makes us impatient and restless, makes us play like a chorus of loose cannons. tonight, after a long hiatus, we sounded fresh and enthusiastic. not too shabby, i'd say.
and i'm thankful for that. because being in a band is like family. sometimes it's drawn out dramatic and stressful, sometimes its political, sometimes it's for all the wrong reasons, sometimes its living hell. and then sometimes it's perfect, it's fun, it's about creativity and the love of music. and in those moments, it feels sustainable, like it could last forever. those times, the band is the family you want to keep around, the family you want to grow old with, and the music is a comfortable and perpetual joy to share with the world.
“Without music, life would be an error.”
movie night at the mini farm is something i look forward to. it's a new tradition. tom and heather became our neighbors this summer, the days quickly grew short and dark and the cold set in. thus, movie night was born. it's one of those things you invent when you live in a small town, to gather your people close to you, to make the winter feel festive and alive. and in the company of these two good good people, snuggled up on the couch in our socks with our knitting and hot beverages, it most often does.
last night, tom picked our selections. we watched a fascinating documentary about krump, a wild dance craze i knew nothing about, followed by some episodes of marc, a glam rock variety show complete with its own dance team! needless to say, i was enlightened. and i've got some new moves to show for it.
there's this thing about being an artist: it can take forever to clean the studio. if you get a wonderful idea and put it into action, it can take a mere five minutes of creative whirlwind to mess it all to hell. yes, it's that tasmanian devil spirit that makes me do it, that spirit that gave me the moniker "messy jessie". but i always loathe the mess. it haunts me, and follows me around, and prevents me from relaxing. because the physical clutter is really mental clutter. this year, my plan is to do better, to sort my world so it makes sense, and force myself clean up the disasters...right after i make them. it's a lifelong dream of mine, really. organization. it's a catch-22, because as an artist your most valuable possessions are your supplies, and even a tiny scrap of paper can count as a potential supply. today, as i sorted through nine shelves on a flat file that were stuffed to the gills with every which kind of random paper scrap, i was reminded of my dreadful childhood method for cleaning my room: stuff it where the sun don't shine. namely, under the bed or in the closet, which resulted in some pretty gnarly discoveries months down the road. rotten lunches, lost assignments, fast food wrappers, you name it, lost in the chaos. it only took watching a few episodes of hoarders to help me realize where those bad habits can lead to. so this year, i'm adding organization to my list of resolutions. so i don't lose my marbles.