to each their own

watercolor on paper, 9x12

when it comes right down to it, even after a six month break, i can still whip out a realistic watercolor by staring at an object, painting what i see.  this one came remarkably easy, like i could do it blindfolded, like i was born to paint squished beer cans.   oh, how i love painting squished beer cans.  and yeah, i guess painting a particular way every day for a year conditions you.  in the process of that year, i didn't exactly love every painting i did.  some were downright awful.  but the errors are a necessary part of the trials.  and so i don't censor my little basket of loose leaf watercolors that sits on a table in my store.  i let people see them all, thumb through them, for better or worse.  i let it all hang out, and they can decide what to make of it.

  usually, people respond in an overwhelmingly positive way.  today, a biker couple giggled over a painting of a smooshed pack of  cigs, "this one's perfect for you", said the woman clad in black leather, then finding the bic lighter painting that could possibly be paired with it.  another couple of youngsters whispered back and forth, "this is my favorite, no, this is my favorite....oh, this one could go over the bed".  it's funny, hearing the comments, hidden behind the counter, when nobody knows it's me that painted those pictures. and then there's the other side of the coin.  today, while james was working, some fella picked up a painting, showed his whole family, and remarked something to the effect of, "can you believe it?  sixty dollars for this!?! who would pay sixty dollars for this??", hastily throwing the paper back into it's basket.  now that, my friends, is more honest than a college critique or a review in the paper.  luckily, i don't really care.  to each their own.



for the love of trouble


oh, puppies.    last night they got into my yarn stash and tangled four skeins of the *expensive* yarn to holy hell.   it's hard to get mad at those cute little faces, those big sad eyes, but i do my obligatory reprimanding, theatrical stomping and a deep booming voice, shaking the yarn at them, asking sternly whooo did this?  was it youuuu?  i'm silently laughing to myself as they both hide under the bed, tails tucked, until i decide it's over.  somehow, they seem to know while they're doing something mischievous that they're in the act of being bad boys.  but they still grab at socks, every now and again, after ripping holes in many a heel.  they know it's wrong.  but it's a guilty pleasure, that stinky sock tastes so damn good!, and defines the bad boy mentality to the core:  getting into trouble is half the fun!  i know these patterns well, i've watched it unfold time and again: i've been surrounded by "bad boys" my entire life, including my father, who hides it fairly well in his work clothes, (but i know better), including my brother, who has somehow lived through and witnessed more than what could be seen in a season of Cops, including a large portion of my friends and including nearly every fella i've ever dated.  but that's part of why i love em, what i love about them.  hell, my mamma was no angel, and  neither am i.  and maybe that's why i've always been drawn to "rebels": i do deeply understand the desire to bend the rules, to break the rules, to make your own set of rules.  i don't always understand the rules in the first place, or how one small set of people can govern what is best for the "greater good" of all people.  some rules just don't apply to me, and so i ignore them.  maybe that makes me some kind of a rebel.  or maybe i'm just like my puppies.  maybe rebellion is just a part of nature, after all.


find the time


yesterday started out as an epic fail.  i painted my one-a-day, but i hated it.  i drank too much coffee, and got all fried out.  i was cold, and couldn't get warm.  the fire wouldn't start.  i felt too whiny to make breakfast.  for some reason, i felt paralyzed, helpless against the weight of the world, in an over-dramatic, woah is me sort of way.  and i guess, when it all came around, it was the usual gripe, the house is dirty, i miss my mom, and life is just sooo overwhelming.  yet somehow, magically (but just like every other time), the gentle coaxing of james and his total dedication to making things better turned the ship around, and by two o'clock we had managed to get going on some very necessary household management duties. we spent the remainder of the day cleaning and sorting piles, the piles that grow when you're just too damn busy trying to make a buck to spend any time on yourself.   spinning john prine and drinking cranberry wine, we sorted and swept and sucked the corners clean until we had made a serious dent in what sometimes seems like the bain of my existence: stuff.  and still, there's more where that came from!  who needs an armless mannequin?  a revolving darkroom door?  a kid-sized mattress? or an old chaise lounge?  certainly not me. now, if i could only find the time to figure out what to do with it all.


keep trying


i get jealous easily.  my mom used to too.  i get jealous of other people's accomplishments.  maybe it's human nature, but it's kind of embarrassing.  my mom, well, she was an overachiever, and so am i.  she was extremely competitive, and not just at yahtzee or scrabble, but at life.  she wanted everything to be perfect, exactly, and didn't stop at sub-par.  she wanted perfection so badly that it could be intense at times.  she would get real catty if someone achieved something that she wanted, or if somebody was a better artist than her.  it wasn't easy for her to admit failure.  nor is it for me.  it's not one of those qualities that i love about myself, but i do think i inherited it from her, and so i embrace it as something preciously human.  mom was a tough cookie, and that disguised her vulnerability well.  so i guess it's her that's still keeping me on my toes.  having a mother that's crossed over into spirit-hood is way more powerful than a nagging phone call or a guilty conscience.

I know i can't stop in the tireless pursuit of greatness, constantly working to better my skills.  because those skills don't work themselves.  and, honestly, it's not easy to get noticed out there.  mom tried for years to get her illustrations published in children's books, sending out packets upon beautiful packets, beating her head against one brick wall after another only to get no response.  i watched from the sidelines, cheering her on.  and so i guess maybe that runs in the family too.  just last month i got another politically polite refusal letter from another artist's grant award that i didn't win.  the first couple of times i cried.  but now, i'm used to it.  i've toughened up a little.  and i guess i realized, you can't win the big prize if you don't enter the race in the first place.  and so it goes:  try, try, and try again.




Sometimes i dream of living in a simpler world.  I get fried out easily by the busyness of modern society, by the speed at which information and media proliferates.  More often than not, something on the internet finds it's way under my skin and can bug me for days. I get overwhelmed and burned out by traffic, consumer culture, and automobiles.  The buzz or flicker of a screen can really piss me off.  I want to yell STOP!  and have everything around me freeze until i say go.  but i know this idea of simplicity i have, well, it's just a matter of perspective.  

My late uncle earl used to reminisce often of his childhood at the turn of the century.  His life was anything but simple.  As a youngster, his sister fell ill from tuberculosis.  Without the aid of modern medicine, she died, leaving a lingering feeling of loneliness in Earl.  Della's son Cecil came to live with earls family, which added financial pressure during what was already a depressed time.  Earl delivered papers as a little boy to help support his family financially.  His first house had neither running water, nor electricity.  He told a story once of walking the family's cow the six long miles from Ferndale to Bellingham when the family moved.   I can hardly begin imagine that happening today.  I grew up with push button heat, a machine to wash the dishes, and a car to drive me around.   It reminds me to be thankful for what i have in this modern era, rather than resentful of what i don't have.  I know i get the privilege to choose how simple i want my life to be.




 Just the other day, James called me a "blue collar" artist.  It's true, he said insistently.  Who works the way you do?  And maybe it's true.  I paint by the hour, I paint commissions, I paint on the cheap, I paint by the people for the people.  I haven't exactly made it big by art world standards, or even had a major solo exhibit in a gallery, but in my own little world, i do believe i have made it.  I've made it because i don't have to clock in or answer to anyone but myself and my clients, most of whom are friends.  Its a good life.  And I believe it's the only sustainable way to make it as an artist without "striking gold", so to speak.  I mean, you do the math: in this shriveled economy, it's a hell of a lot easier to sell ten paintings at sixty bucks than one at six hundred.  And so that's how I roll.  I work like anyone else who works.  I don't need high prices to inflate my ego.  Nope.  Because painting is my job, and i'm fast, efficient, creative, and damn good at it.  Take today, for instance.  I whipped out this little ditty of a commission and then spent the remainder of the day hand-lettering a sign, in the sun with the chirping birds and the sleeping dogs, neighbors and friends stopping by to chat over the fence.  Fucking fantastic, i tell you.  Fucking fantastic.


lasting impressions

gosh, the last couple of days there has been a lot of weird energy swirling around.  sometimes, negativity surges and creates what feels like a vortex.  it's hard to get out unscathed.  

for example: last night, a fight broke out in the bar, at the door right behind my stool.  it seemed contagious, like wild fire, and soon, bystanders were throwing what seemed like unsolicited punches in undeserved and unsuspecting directions.  luckily, i wasn't hurt.  i just stayed in my seat and pretended to be invisible.  but that's not to say that it didn't affect me, or leave me feeling quite haunted.

and then today, i had some weird customers in the store.  i had a fighting couple, whining at each other like immature brats, in front of me and their kids.  and then there was the nasty lady, looking for something specific,  who seethingly remarked at our recommendation,"i don't go there, it smells like cat piss".  and that's just the tip of the iceberg.  

i try not to let that stuff bother me, let it roll off, shake it off, but i can't say that it doesn't affect me. because i'm pretty sensitive.  it leaves an impression, a lasting odor, like a skunk hit by a car and rotting in the ditch.  and most of all, it makes me wish people would just try to be nicer to each other.




sometimes it's easy to have a good day.   today was easy, and good.  i am thankful for those kind of days, the days where i don't worry, days that i breeze through.  last night, with a little wine to do the coaxing,  i gave my major soliloquy over a bag of chips in the kitchen.  i told my story to james, in a way i never really had during our ten years of being together.   i remembered me before: my teenage years, my coming of age, the fine details, the gritty details.  i remembered in ways which i hadn't in so long.   moments, so many moments i've shuffled into the closet like a pile of dirty laundry i didn't want to air out.   it feels nice to lighten the load a little,  to let some stuff out, and to enjoy the simplicity of my new life, my adult life,where my sole purpose is to live in the now, to be nice, and to enjoy the smiles of my neighbors, promises of kindness like the budding blossoms on an apple tree, as spring in the valley comes optimistically upon us all.




today in conversation, i was explaining why i started the one-a-day up again.  i compared it to exercise.  i found that when i worked out my "artist muscles" regularly by painting every day, it was easy.  i had a flow, and found that i worked faster and better than ever.  ideas kept coming, like the siphoning of a hose. but as soon as i stopped, i stopped. i took a long break, a six month break.  i hardly picked up a paintbrush, nor did i have any desire to.  trying to start again was nearly impossible, excruciating, painful, like the first day of athletic training after a long summer off.  i looked at other people's art longingly.  i was out of shape.  i had disappeared.  where had i gone?

needless to say, it feels good to be back in the saddle again.  the work is different, new.  it references all sorts of disparate influences throughout my life.  i feel more freedom to change from day to day.  i'm not so terrified by a blank canvas.  i don't need to paint it exactly how my eyes see it.  and more than ever, i see my mom coming through, clear as a bell, in the nuances i've developed, the tricks i learned as a little girl watching over her shoulder, as she carved in ivory or washed in watercolor.  no mom, i haven't forgotten.   i'm just beginning to realize, to see her influences carved into me, in the same way the ocean carves the sandstone rock walls: slowly, yet determinedly, dramatically, over time.


taking care

my best ideas come when i'm least expecting it, usually when i'm driving or drifting off to sleep or doing something so entirely consuming i can't stop a minute to make note of it.  it's hard to hang on to those ideas, they seem to drift out of sight like dandelion seeds in the wind.  but sometimes they stick around, sometimes they grow on me.  these days, i carry a calendar around as an insurance policy. each day has a set of empty lines and each idea gets marked down so i don't lose track of it.  i go back often, retrieve seeds of ideas, put them together, they develop into paintings or projects or lists that get me from here to there. it seems to work, making my somewhat hodge-podge of a professional life more productive than it's ever been.

 even still, i have my moments.  today, i found myself trying to do too many things at once, remember too many things at once.  i opened my trusty notebook while driving windy old chuckanut, struggled one-handed to find a pencil in the bottom of my bottom-less bag.  the radio was blarin and i was rockin out, singing along, in an anthemic "TAKIN CARE OF BUSINESS, EVERY DAY!"  do you ever find that when you try to do too much at once, you get nothing done at all, or worse yet, you fuck shit up because you're in a hurry?  it happens.  but as mr. ben franklin said himself: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  stop it,  i had to say to myself.  slow the fuck down.  concentrate on one thing at a time.

i remember you

i remember it well.  meeting james was like meeting a wild animal face to face.  he was of the untamed sort, a free-thinking kind of fella, going about life in his own way, distinctly.   perfect for a girl like me, having grown up mostly protected and sheltered in a suburban kind of way, i was looking for someone outside of the box of normalcy, distinctly.   i was looking for an adventure, and i knew i had found it.  james, well, he was full of surprises, full of stories and ideas.  he lived in the moment, moment to moment, and was the first man i had ever met who was entirely self-employed, lived the way he wanted to live, by his own set of rules.  he was different.

james had holes in his jeans, holes in the elbows of his sweaters, holes in the floor and windows of his house where the air came through.  he wasn't afraid.  the edge of his hat was threadbare and worn, the color obscured by the years of "environment" it had collected.  james didn't give a fuck what people thought.  he had the biggest bluest eyes i had ever seen, full of fire and ferocity.  and i knew: i didn't have a chance.

on one of our first hangouts, james gave me the smallest cd i had ever seen, decorated with a tiny star in sharpie marker.  the cd held two songs, both of which he had written and recorded himself, alone in a yurt on an island i hadn't yet been to.  i listened, and listened again.  the music moved me in the way that only some music does.  and i knew: i didn't have a chance.

certain music, well it just becomes the soundtrack of your life.  those days, i listened to a lot of screeching weasel, rentals, the anniversary and misfits on my walk up the hill to school.  i never wore socks, always wore short pants so you could see my ankles.  i had bleach blond hair that was four inches long, wore studded belts, tried to be rock and roll before i knew what that meant.  i listened to elliott smith and the pixies while painting some of my first paintings.  and ten years ago, james played me neutral milk hotel. from then on, i couldn't get enough.   it was our soundtrack.

 last night, seeing jeff mangum in the flesh, hearing him play those songs i knew by heart, it all came flooding back. 




i'm starting to figure it out.  how to live right, that is.  or rather, how to take care of business.  and how not to drive myself crazy with minutia.  it's not so complicated, but somehow, it's always eluded me.  here, i'll give you an example:  

i was tired of washing dishes.  we don't have a dishwasher, we do it all by hand.  it seemed to me that every day they piled up: in the sink, on the counter, everywhere.  especially silverware. and no matter how hard i tried to stay on top of it, it was like a plague.  the pile would grow and grow.  in a tiny kitchen, this just doesn't work.  so i started to observe my own behavior.  what i found was: every morning, when i went to use a fork to mix the cat food, i grabbed it from the drawer and then tossed it in the sink.  so i thought to myself:  lets get to the root of this problem.  i went through every cupboard and drawer, and filled a big box with give-aways.  things i didn't need.  things that were redundant.  i kept a small set of silverware in the drawer, four forks, four spoons and four knives, and hid some extras away, just  in case of company.  and now, suddenly, it's much easier to do the dishes.  

in short, this lesson can be applied to many areas of life.
1) simplify.
2) repeat as necessary.


coffee colored


it rained all day.  the water collected in the low spots in the yard and the ducks mucked around in it like they do.   i felt at home in the rain, quieted by the rain, thankful for the rain to douse last nights inaugural campfire.  i walked the dogs by the river, just me and my coffee, the river mimicking the color of my coffee with almond milk, the way it is when the water collects mud and silt on its way down down down the hills.  the grass is tall enough now that the water sneaks up, wicks into my rolled up jeans and somehow down into my boots.  i don't mind, no.  neither do the dogs, soaked the bone.  they were happy to be wrestling,  skirting and darting in the grass, little daredevils, the grass tall enough to hide their bodies, one tackle and tumble after another.   i wore the raincoat and the mud boots, my northwest washington uniform, but took the hood off so i could hear the sound of water hitting the ground and the rivers surface.  i always notice how people flinch and contort their faces in the rain, as if they don't like the rain.  i don't do that. i like the rain.  i was born here.  i belong here.  it just makes sense.


day of rest


by the time five o'clock sunday rolls around, i am darn ready to close the store and get outside.  after working my retail shifts, smiling my special "only for customers" smile, so much so that i fear my face might get stuck that way, i am pretty eager to get back to my sunshine and shovel, my dirt, my weeding and turning of new garden beds, to get my hands black in the mud.  by sunday at five, i am ready for the tourists to go home, to stop peeking over my fence, ready for them to give me my town back, and for the busy streets full of shiny black expensive cars and gurgling harley davidsons to be empty again, so i can walk my dogs down the center line, in a yes i live here, thank you sort of way.  yeah, sure, i depend on tourism.  but that dependency is a double-edged sword.  sometimes it's hard not to resent the situation, feeling like an monkey at a zoo begging for a measly peanut from passerby.  thankfully, sunday always brings monday, the quietest day, a day of rest. 


the road home


there is something breathtaking about the way the dandelions glow, sun shining, in a fat stripe along both sides of farm to market road, something that makes it so hard to believe the dandelion is considered a weed.  sure, it's hard to make them "go away" entirely.  their root systems dig deeply into the most barren landscapes, making the dandelion a bit of a renegade, a survivor, popping up again and again, seemingly strengthened by every futile attempt to dig it up and weaken its spirit, sneakily breaking off at the root to leave just a bit behind.  

  it's one of the first flowers to bloom around here, and a much needed burst of yellow among the drab washed out greys of winter.  i've seen many a honey bee collecting pollen from those blooms, and it makes me wonder why i ever pull them out in the first place.  we as humans are illogical like that, i suppose.  someone decided one day that the dandelion was a pest to their immaculate lawn of uninterrupted velvet green, and from that day forward, billions upon billions of dollars have gone into chemical potions designed to decimate the dandelions.  for what reason? some sort of manifest destiny, some lofty ideal of perfection.  but to me, the dandelion epitomizes perfection.  i always think to myself, when the world goes to shit, when shit hits the fan, it's the dandelions, the thistles and the morning glory, the rats and crows and seagulls, the pests and underdogs of nature that will make it through alive.


the future


the puppies are learning.  potty-training, sitting, laying down, and staying.  the word no in deep booming voice.  what good boy means.  and they can almost fetch.  during a sunny day in the backyard, i throw a chunk of a stick.  they will run for it, clumsily, enthusiastically pick it up, it fills up their entire mouth.  they bring it halfway to me, then get distracted by the other's antics, dropping the stick entirely to chew on their brothers ear or hind leg.

sometimes i am like that puppy, getting halfway to the finish line of some project before dropping it entirely to pursue something else.  

having puppies has taught me many things, but one thing for sure:  set lots of goals,  but set small goals.  set attainable goals, write them down.  cross them off, one at a time.  and most of all, slow down, for all good things come in time, with patience.  and some day, a long long time from now, you will look back on it all thinking how it went by in just the blink of an eye.


signs and signals


 I'm one of those people who searches for signals and signs from the universe to guide me through my day to day.   This, in a nutshell, is why i'm starting up the project again.  Let me explain.

Just yesterday, James and I were walking the puppies in the fallow and marshy duck fields a couple miles from home.  It was a normal walk, just like any other walk, except it was sunny and warm, the novel feeling of spring after a hard winter, with a sudden show of dainty wildflowers as far as the eye could see.  Otherwise, it was just like any other walk, with our two four-month old puppies, sunny-boy the color of a roasted marshmallow, flopping enthusiastically into the black green rank-smelling drainage ditch, and samish, the tri-color, eating leftover rodent entrails left by some feral yet picky eater.  

Our morning walks are where we talk, get some fresh air, hash things out.  So i was discussing the possibility of starting up the one-a-day project again.  Walking south towards the sun and our trusty van,  talking, talking, and suddenly something takes flight! We had spooked a short-eared owl, just five feet away, nearly scaring me out of my pants, unmistakeably weightless in the air under the power of its wings.   Continuing, we spooked another, this one so close i could feel the wind of its wings.  It was then i knew.  

I looked down to find a nest in the grass with two precious white eggs.  Magic. We quickly corralled the dogs and headed out as fast as we could, making sure the owls could resume brooding over those delicate and vulnerable eggs.  And it was then that i knew. I knew it was time, time to resume, to start the next chapter of my story.