Today was an absolutely glorious day, the first in a long long long time. After weeks of rain and rain and rain and cold and rain. Clear brilliant sky, the loons singing on the lake, AND it was warm, 24 degrees Centigrade (that’s 75 F. for you other guys)! I was able to eat lunch outside, play in my garden, enjoy the sun. Winter is really over! (Well, keep your fingers crossed. It could still snow again, but we won’t talk about that!)
After finishing The Namesake a few days ago, I’ve had a hard time getting into another book. At lunch yesterday with Aaron and Jessica, we were talking “books” and they asked what I was reading. I couldn’t remember the title, the author or what the book was about that I had just started. I am still so immersed in my mind in Gogul Ganguli’s story.
But I feel naked without a book to read, so I picked up don marquis’ archy and mehitabel, one of Aaron’s favorite books for a long time and one that I can enjoy in little snippets. (I will tell you more about it later. Suffice it to say, it’s really good reading and perfect for an “after a deeply moving book” experience.)
I just finished reading a very beautiful book, The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri. She’s a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for a collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies. It was not a good book for bedtime reading: I was often reading far into the night. Her writing is poetic, personal and touches the heart. The storyline is very similar to my own life: a person rejecting his cultural heritage and thereby always feeling uncomfortable with himself. He rejects not only the Bengali culture that his parents have very carefully transported to their new life in the United States, but also his name, the name that meant so much to his father.
Lahiri chronicles Gogul Ganguli’s life from before his birth, with the arranged marriage of his parents in Calcutta, through his childhood, his conflicts with his parents, his education and various relationships, until his mid thirties. After his father dies, he begins to appreciate his family, his culture, himself, his name, through difficult lessons. His mother introduces him to a daughter of a friend of the family, a Bengali woman whose marriage (to an American) was cancelled shortly before the event. They reach out to each other for comfort, appreciate the familiarity of their backgrounds, that they had been at the same community events in their childhood, that they both rebelled against their heritage. But that is not enough.
In the end, his mother comments that, although she did learn to love her husband very deeply, it is American common sense to look for happiness in love rather than settle for something less than a person’s ideal.
In my Pilates class, my instructor, Kim, likes to use something called a bosu. Basically, it is half a large ball with the consistency of a marshmallow mounted on a firm ring. It is supposed to help develop core muscle strength (as are all the Pilates exercises). And basically, I really really dislike it! The week before I had complained bitterly. I was told that one woman had, in another class, put one foot on the bosu, took it off, threw her keys down, walked out and never came back. I understand completely.
But this week I decided that I would give it a chance. That if I didn’t complain, maybe I wouldn’t dislike it so much. And that worked. I was able to find my balance easier, only fell off once (and did land on my feet) and could see the merit in the (wretched) toy.
There’s a Buddhist saying, one of the 59 slogans of Atisha’s (an Indian sage), that is one of my favorites: Change your attitude and relax as it is. It’s a good one. In case you are wondering, Atisha was an Indian sage. The slogans are ways to train your mind in transforming difficulties into compassion. So I guess you could say I am developing compassion for the (blessed/bloody) bosu!
My sister has been taking a photography class. Her photos are very good. She is just starting to put together a portfolio, just beginning. Another student asked her what she wanted to focus on in her work, what was her subject. It made her think about what she was doing in a different way, about what a portfolio, a body of work is.
It made me think about my photos, the snapshots I take around my life. I like to get up close. Very close. The same is true in my painting. Before, during and after.
There seem to be two approaches to making art. One is taking something universal, an idea, a concept, and making it personal. The other is to take something personal and make it universal. The latter is my approach. I’ve taken very personal photographs and worked them into my paintings. When the painting is finished, the photographs are barely seen, not recognizable, yet they infuse the painting process from the very beginning. Sometimes it is hard to look, day after day, at the photos I have chosen. They are there to give me a charge. They do inform the painting.
I used to think that a painting had to be pure, have no personal, recognizable emotional content, ever. Not at the beginning, not in the middle, and definitely not at the end. But this seems to be working. And at the end, no one knows the story, it does transcend my personal storyline.
Sunday was Graduation Day. 210 eager students with shiny faces and clean clothes (one wearing a beaver costume, another a striped jail suit) crossed the stage to receive degrees in various aspects of artistic discipline. And that is exactly what you need to succeed in art: discipline. And obsession. A disciplined obsession. A personal obsession that becomes bigger than oneself.
The first speaker, the Chair fo the Board of Govenors, addressed the basic insecurity of the profession, saying that artists are the historians of their times, chronicling the cultural nature of society. In the cultural tenor of the times, a comment like that is always appreciated.
Richard Serra, the world renowned sculptor, received an honorary doctorate degree. His work is in major collections internationally. (To loosely paraphrase his brilliant talk) he said that there are infinite ways to make art. There is no map of how to do it. Start with yourself, your own experience. Rely on your own needs, your own hungers, your own instincts. You have to do it yourself. We all have a subject. He ended by saying: “We are all more than we think we are. And today as you graduate, that is the most optimistic thing I can tell you.”
At the end of the validictorian’s speech, he turned to (now Dr.) Serra and congratulated him on his degree, saying he hoped it would open doors for him in the future!
Yesterday the snow came down in heavy flakes for several hours. In the evening when Aaron (who was visiting for the day) and I were having dinner, we watched the snow as if we were in a movie theatre. Aaron said it was like watching fish in an aquarium.
This morning I woke to see a layer of confectioner's sugar on the ground. The rhododendron had been thinking about blooming soon, but I expect they are not so sure right now.
The crocuses are still there under the thin snow blanket. The sun is out this morning and probably the flowers will be showing their faces again soon.
I went to the market this morning with Aaron and Jessica. We met a friend whose mother had died at 96. I had met the mother at the granddaughter’s wedding about six years ago. A very lively woman, she was taking a walk in the woods by herself before the wedding (which was in lovely Cape Breton) and continued to play tennis at home in Colorado with her friends. So Aaron asked me just now how long I think I will live. I still have a bit of things to do before I go. I can only hope that I will be in as good form as my friend’s mother.
The other day I was doing my morning Pilates exercises and decided to pay more attention to my instructor’s voice. She is always saying “Squeeze the glutes. Squeeze the back of the legs. Squeeze the glutes. Squeeze the back of the legs.” So I did. I squeezed the glutes. I squeezed the back of the legs. It did feel different. I discovered a new part of my body. Very exciting discovery. I almost called my instructor to tell her.
But the next day I was so sore that I could barely climb the stairs without wincing and I had to sleep with a hot water bottle under the back of my thighs. (I gave it a day’s rest and am more comfortable now.)
There are some days when I don’t really feel like talking to strangers. It is hard in Nova Scotia where it is rare to walk out of the grocery store without someone (usually the check-out person) wanting to start a conversation. Yesterday she commented on it being a rather nice day. It was only drizzle and cloudy, no snow, not warm but not cold. Etcetera. Another weather report. It was hard (from my end-of-a-long-day point of view) to make that into a conversation without sounding grumpy! I do, usually, love Nova Scotia because it is so friendly here.
I love reading short stories, find them a good meal. Sherman Alexie’s Ten Little Indians, a book of very big short stories, is at the top of my list. Alexie is a potent writer, irreverent, bold and witty. In each story it seems the direction shifts quickly, without warning (keeping the bedtime reader awake), creating real people. Each story is about a different Spokane Indian off the reservation living in Seattle. Alexie draws very different pictures for each story.
One of my favorite lines comes in a story about a woman who is hurt when a bomb goes off in a restaurant in which she is having lunch. “She wondered if her brain had been more seriously damaged by the blast than she’d thought. Maybe her skull had been ripped open and her brain was exposed for all to see. Wouldn’t that be the most extreme form of public nudity?” The stories do expose the depths and heights of human emotions, pointedly, unpredictably, eloquently.
Reading what Tamar wrote about the apartment we lived in when she was young brought back many feelings and memories, some good, some I thought I had put away forever. But the past can not be put in a tidy box.
It was a beautiful apartment. I lived there for nine years, longer than I have lived anywhere since I left my parent’s home at 17. When I left that apartment, I left my marriage with it. I took two children, two cats, a fish tank and lots of furniture and art supplies with me. I never looked back, never regretted leaving. Perhaps I should have left all the furniture and started completely anew with only the children and pets.
I have moved frequently before and after that apartment. I don’t think I have felt “at home” anywhere. Always looking for home. I love my house here, the land, the neighborhood. It would be hard to leave it. My average rate of move throughout my adult life has been every three years (and that is factoring in the nine years in that beautiful apartment). So, having lived here almost eight years, I am making a record. Every place I lived, I made it “home”, nestling in like I would be there “forever”, frequently actually believing that I wasn’t going to move again.
People always ask me, don’t you just LOVE Montreal. When I was in Montreal in March, I went to a chocolatier with Aaron & Jessica. A MUST stop, along with cheese, to take back to Nova Scotia, to give friends a taste of what cheese and chocolate really is. When the lovely, energetic, crazy chocolate maker discovered I was from Nova Scotia, he, like most people, asked me if I loved Montreal. I said “no”. I don't "love" Halifax either. I enjoy Montreal. Sometimes it feels dirty and unfriendly along with its many offerings of culture and pleasure. I enjoy Halifax. It's growing yet still friendly. I enjoy going to other places. I love my house, I love where I live, the people around me. I love my life here. I love coming "home" after traveling. But the future is an open book and a place is just one of many.
Sunday evening Yoko and I got together for our weekly piano duets. We have begun studying Satie’s Morceaux en Forme de Poire. It is so hauntingly beautiful, mesmerizing. We were transported to a mysterious, mystical realm. Yoko thanked Satie for writing this piece. When we played Dvorak after that it sounded so strange, so heavy. It took me a while to adjust. But then I was able to enjoy the differences.
We bought the CD of Satie’s music and I have been playing it on the “repeat” setting. I suppose that is one good thing about living alone. I won’t drive anyone crazy with my obsessions!
I went to a birthday party for a good friend on Sunday afternoon. When I walked into the house, I looked around and realized I knew only one person there, the hostess (and then the birthday boy when he arrived). The next couple to come turned out to be my vet and his wife, people I was very happy to see again (as I have been dogless for a few years now) and renew a friendship. (He was part of a long-time poker group with my friend.) Then while talking to another woman, I discovered she was the sister of the husband of a friend (who had both visited me the previous weekend) and the connections continued until by the time I left, there were only about two people out of the 15 or so at the party that I didn’t have a related storyline.
After everyone left, I sat out on the back deck in the warm sun with the hostess and we talked for a couple of hours. It was an unusually brilliant Spring day, the world growing smaller and warmer with every turn of the clock. Of course it is raining again today, but that doesn’t change yesterday.
It's starting to warm up and sometimes it even feels like spring. When the sky is clouded over, the crocuses close up.......
But when the sun shines, as it did yesterday, the flowers open up and show their beautiful tender faces.......
Nevertheless I am not convinced it will not snow again so I won't put my snow shovel away until June.
When I was in art school, we would have long discussions about whether an artist, because he/she was looking for truth and beauty, was necessarily a moral/good person. I recently heard Wagner’s grandson on the radio trying to bring reconciliation to his grandfather’s anti-semetic rhetoric. The moderator was commenting on how most composers, other than Bach, are not known for their upstanding, moral character.
I think it was this program where Wagner’s grandson (or someone, I don’t remember who exactly) was saying that “the arts are a reason to be alive. Not a life support.” They show the potential of human kind. The product is not the artist.
Too bad. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the wonderful art creations around meant that there were that many wonderful, good, moral people as well.
Barbara Held was interviewed yesterday on “The Current” (CBC, of course) talking about her book Stop Smiling, Start Kvetching. How to be negative in a positive (constructive) way. Creative complaining. To “be liberated from the tyranny of the positive attitude”. No need to “have a nice day” when it isn’t. Not healthy to put on that big smile when life is not good/happy.
On the other hand, when someone asks me/you “how are you?” do they really want to know or is it a rhetorical question, a way of starting a pleasant conversation? And if I really tell you that my this and my that are out of whack and I can’t imagine how to do this and such or why that "X" thing happened, wouldn’t that change the way I feel that day? Not just your response to what I say. What I say affects the way I feel. I am not solid nor are my feelings or words.
Ms. Held was saying that by complaining properly you can attract people to you who will help. I would be curious to learn what she means by complaining properly.
Raining, raining, (and again) raining! The sun struggles to come out every few days but it seems to be losing the battle. “They” promise us sun tomorrow and again by Wednesday (with rain in between, of course). Never lacking in excitement, oddities and change--no wonder Canadians are obsessed with the weather!
One of my students asked me if I enjoyed teaching that class. I was a bit shocked by his forthrightness. Previously he had asked me who I thought was the best student in the class. This time I laughed and told him he asked the most interesting questions. And he asks them with such candor that I appreciate his questions.
No I hadn’t enjoyed that particular class. It was difficult. An odd assortment of students, not ones who could communicate well with each other. Too many different artistic goals, many disparate aesthetics. The students were difficult to teach. They had specific ideas about what they were willing to try and what they wanted and did not want to do. Next time I teach this particular class I will take a very different approach. I would start out more experimental, give them more of a sense of play from the beginning. My expectations were not related to theirs. My only concern would be that they learn to broaden their expectations.
The class was a collage workshop. It is something that I know a lot about, something I use in my work every day. But my approach comes out of years of working with color, originally in the form of collage, and an education that was based on process, not product.
I am really happy to have three weeks before the summer session starts!
Boy, am I ready to pull my hair out! I’ve been getting together my tax information! Every time I think I have it all figured out, I find more documents! BAH! I guess I don’t need to say more! Toni said it best!
It is the last week of this semester. We are having final crits at school. That means for me, talking to each student individually about their work. It is exhausting but fascinating as well. I’ve had some interesting conversations in the process.
I was talking to a student Tuesday about the difference between sweet/pretty and beautiful, the difference between sentimental and romantic. She comes to art school from a science background. She's been in two classes with me and I have watched her work (and her) grow from being very precise, almost delicate, always sensitive to a much stronger, experimental approach. There are times when the sensitive is too pretty and can be off-putting, when it is sentimental, doesn’t reach beyond itself.
She commented that over the semester when I had pointed out that certain parts of her work could be eliminated, strengthened, the ones where the work was from the past, was too careful, too much sentiment, she felt I was wrong. Until a few weeks after my comments when she would look at the piece again and see what I was talking about.
Sentiment can be sticky, cloying; romance is broadening. I love watching these kids grow in their work and in their being. It is romance for me.
The sunset on the white pines by the lake was spectacular a couple of days ago:
and across the lake the trees looked like they were on fire:
But it has been and will continue to be raining, with drizzle and fog for the rest of the week.
I heard from Tamar that a hate group has gogglebombed the word Jew to their site. Their intention is to have their group at the top of the listing when you google Jew. Obviously, anti-semitism is not dead. Hate is not dead. Hate is deadly. The state of hate in the world is altogether upsetting.
I went bowling on the weekend. It was a friend’s birthday party. I have known Norm and Nancy for twenty-five years. I knew them each before they were together. Now Norm is 53 and Nancy will turn 50 this summer. I've known them each before they had known (in the biblical sense) each other. I’ve known them and a lot of their friends when we lived in New York City and here in Nova Scotia. We are all practicing Buddhist. And yet I could say that half of the people at the bowling party were not people I am comfortable around. I could say even that I hate a few of them. But that would be too strong a word. I just really don’t enjoy their company because they act like they don’t like me. I would imagine that if they were friendlier to me, I might like them, definitely more than I do now. And quite possibly, if I had been friendlier to them, taken more of an interest in their worlds, they would have been friendlier to me, etc. etc. etc. etc.
Then the other thing about friendship is that I know for myself how I am with someone can change radically from person to person, and even from day to day. It could depend on what I had been thinking or even what I had for dinner. Who I am is not solid, not a fact. I exist in relationship to what is happening, who I am with, what I am doing.
There are all kinds of friendship: casual friends, intimate friends, old and new friends. And every kind has its idiosyncrasies and rules. I, being a Sagittarius, call everyone a friend until proven otherwise. But actually sometimes feel I don’t have a friend in the world. I do have a few very close friends, with whom I can talk freely about most things that happen in my life, in my mind. I treasure them.
But the other kind of friend, the casual friend, is a very important friend as well. Spending time with a friend does not necessarily mean intimacy. Talking about “myself”, whatever that may be on that particular day. I learn so much by what I don’t, can’t say in that situation—learn to listen, to appreciate how the other person’s mind works separate from me, to see my responses without needing (or being able to be verbal), without asking for confirmation.
But it is commonly (accurately and sometimes with difficulty) said that the best friend is the one that you spend the most time with—yourself. If you don't like that friend, if that person is frustrated and angry, the world is not a pretty place. Maybe the hate mongers have no real friend.
This is not really about anything. It is, I suppose, could be called, a story about nothing, or not a story at all. Because we don't know about death. Only that it is happens, is inevitable.
I was driving into Halifax one day, when the sun was warm and the traffic was thick, and I suddenly thought about how much my daughter would miss me when I die, how painful it will be for her, and tears spilled down my cheeks. And when I think about Katie, or Sebastian or Miranda, my three dogs, I cry because I miss them. And sometimes I want my mother, I want to tell her that I am okay, she need not worry. But I am alone and my daughter will be alone without her mother some day. Not too soon. Time is to prepare. Clean the closets and sort through things that I do not want to leave behind. The teenage journals, diaries, petty thoughts, jealousies, spiteful games.
Spring breeds thoughts of death. New growth coming out of a cold, hard ground is only a reminder of how short the growing season is. Bittersweet. Seeing flowers that had been dormant all winter bursting with beauty, and newly planted vegetables popping out of the ground, brings tears, knowing it will be over so soon. Then that feeling leaves and joy follows like summer. Inevitably the leaves drop from the trees like postcards from summer. It will be winter again soon. Death is life and life is precious. Time is because death is near.
It is a death. Of was. Of is. Of boundaries. Of unknowns. Of a moment. Of course.
I have been close to death a few times. My own only once. When my truck overturned on the highway after being hit by a couple of teenagers trying to make a U-turn. Time did, as they say, feel like an eternity as we swerved and rolled over. And all I could think to say to my son was “they hit us, didn’t they.” And I was thinking that this is a terrible way for him to witness his mother’s death. Afterwards I couldn’t go to sleep in the hospital until I could figure out why I was still alive. (I had put roll-bars on the side to act as running-boards for a friend who has MS.) And I wished that I had told my son how much I loved him.
I learned about death taking care of some friends, all younger than myself, who died of cancer and also my step-mother, who , like many older people, died soon after they lose their spouse, in this case, my father. I learned to stay out of their way, to anticipate their needs, to allow them the dignity of dying without my needs and sorrows.
My three dogs’ deaths were very hard. The first, Miranda, was nine and a half. She died shortly after I moved to Nova Scotia from New York City. I would love seeing her tail wagging in the woods as she found her first pleasures of country living. But she lived here only three months. I felt grief, but also guilt, that I had not been good enough to her, that she could have had a better life if I had only known. That she would die.
So then I quickly got Katie, a frisky puppy until the day she died, at sixteen and a half. In fact, her energy and independence were so intense that I got her a friend, Sebastian, when she was one year old. Katie never forgave me for what she saw as displacing her in my affections, but she loved him as much as I did. But then he died at age three of cancer of the nasal passage. Katie grieved loudly, going into the woods and howling at night. He had died at home and she smelled the death. To me the smell was like roses, sweet and peaceful. For six months before he died, I grieved. When he did die, it was a relief. Katie and I went for long walks together after that, getting to know each other again.
Katie died three years ago and I still miss her. But I don’t think I can go through another doggie death. And this is the first time in over forty years I haven’t had anyone to take care of and it feels good. A new lesson.
When my mother died, I felt grief, but also relief. But not the same as when Sebastian died. We had not had an easy time with each other. But now, I would be so grateful for even an hour with her, not even to talk, just to be with her, let her know that everything is okay.
I spend most of my spare time writing poems to and about my mother. Love poems, I could say, considering that we never expressed our feelings. For ten years after she died, I had intense, burning dreams about my mother. That she was still alive, in a wheelchair, or crippled in some way, and I would say, in my own pain, why doesn’t she die. When she did finally die for me, I missed her and longed for just one more time to be together.
Once we had a couple of goldfish. They died slowly. We watched as their bodies tired and slowly arched and then ceased. Inside the glass jar, death was not frightening, but still sad.
There is an expression, “To die for.” That something is so good, you would be willing to die for it. Another expression, that you are dying of a broken heart, or dying for love. And I have seen that happen. When a love affair goes wrong, and the heart breaks and lets in disease that kills. I had two girlfriends I heard say many times “I am dying of a broken heart” just two years before they did die, but of cancer eating away their unfulfilled loves. Watch what you say. Life is precious. Death comes without warning. Life is precious.
My first crocus:
and that leaf that has survived a hurricane and a blizzard is still on the oak tree outside my kitchen window:
The ice is finally receding on the lake and under the snow that is remaining new life is beginning to appear. It is strange to see garden centers being constructed on supermarket parking lots again, even when there are still large piles of snow (that could pass for dirt, they are so dark now with soot). I was out cleaning up my garden yesterday, getting ready to plant again soon.
Passover is going to come and go and not even say hello. For the past few years some of my Buddhist/Jewish combo friends have gathered together for a seder. The first year I was invited was exhilarating for me. It was a small gathering. Three mixed (Jewish/Gentile) couples, their children, me and my dog Katie. We read the haggadah, ate, sang, laughed and talked about our relationships to religions. Each year the gathering grew until last year it felt like a farce, a comedy without meaning. Laughing at rather than enjoying the rituals. This year the seder is cancelled. Everyone is “too busy” or otherwise occupied.
When I was a child, we would go to my grandmother’s for the seder. I was usually the youngest and read the four questions. My uncle would also hint where they had hidden the matzo so that I would find it. The ceremony was long and tedious, the food interesting. I loved the egg in salt water and the charoset, of which I could never get enough.
I grew up in an semi-immigrant family (my father was born in Riga as was most of my mother’s family) that was trying to assimilate, be American. Being Jewish meant going to synagogue on the High Holidays and kissing my grandmother. As a child, what I studied about Judaism was frightening—wars with the Hitites, and wars with the Philistines and more struggles and more wars. I’ve never been fond of war, fighting, arguments.
Being the only Jewish family in our neighborhood, I learned that we were “different”. I never made peace with being Jewish until recently. I read a wonderful book, God Is Not In the Fire (I’ve since lent out the book and don’t remember the author’s name), given to me by a friend who felt it important that I embrace my spiritual past. It did give me new insight into and respect for the contemplative practices of the Jewish religion and a new pride in my heritage, which is why I wanted to have a seder with my friends. Maybe, if my parents had been more orthodox, I would still practice the Jewish religion. Probably not. I love rituals and am comfortable with my Buddhist practices.
the way the mist lays on the lake in the mornings
is quite beautiful
and sometimes it is not.
It seems to depend upon
the way the lines of the tree tops
draw across each other and across the sky.
They depend upon each other for their beauty.
I took a walk in the woods today for you.
I could not have done it for myself.
Two trees were holding hands and
I parted them as I passed through, returning
their bare branches to their tender touch.
And traces of this year’s last snow lay on the ground
like puffs of mildew.
Thoughts drop like a snowstorm in April
never touching ground, finding no home.
The sun slices through the clouds;
leaves fly like birds on the wind;
and I am here to see it.
The first cruise ship came into Halifax Harbour today. A funny place to go for a Spring holiday. It is a few degrees above freezing (positively balmy!) and there is only a small dump of snow flurries each day, yet still large drifts of snow are on the ground. (Most of the people I know are heading south. I’d be on the next plane to sunny California if I could—school and exhibition commitments keep me here.)
The tourists took it well, according to the radio interviews. People laughed, said it is an interesting place. I like that. I like it here even with our lack of what I would call Spring.
One hundred twenty cruise ships are expected from now into November. Busy harbour.
It IS April! And/but this morning it is snowing, big, soft balls of snow. It is coming down fast:
All the trees are turning white (again) and my driveway is covered with snow (again), so........ T.S. Elliot was right, April IS the cruelest month. But it is not breeding roses here.
Yesterday Yoko came over before we went into Halifax to see The Triplets of Bellesville, a strange, beautifully animated movie. It had been (and is predicted to continue) raining for three days. The fog on the lake was enchanting and Yoko noticed two ducks on the ice:
The tree logs on the edge of the lake are ones that had to be cut up after the blizzard felled them in October.
Here is a closeup shot of the ducks (well, as close as I could get, considering how wet and soggy the ground was and that we wanted to get to the movie on time):
What was it like in Art School for me? Being at Yale when Josef Albers was in charge? Intense. It was intense. I came to art school with minimal background in the basics of design and theory. I left with a profound experience in the process of making art. The focus was on process, not product. Every class was about understanding how and developing the skills to make things happen, the making of the experience. There were a lot of repetitive exercises, enough to wear out any desire for achievement and promote focus on the process of discovery.
At first, for about the first two months, I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it. In painting we learned the difference between drawing and painting. How to use color to make form. We used the same subject matter for six week periods—a dozen oranges, clay flower pots, drapery. It was difficult, a struggle, until one day, when the subject was two Indian rubber plants, I began painting the spaces between the leaves and suddenly I saw what it meant to use paint, not draw.
I had a class that met twice a week just on color. One of the classes was about color relationships with an assigned exercise (the ones in Albers book Interaction of Color). The second class was to bring in a free-form color study. These exercises were done with sheets of pure color, color-aid paper, infinite variations of color to work with. I found this very hard at first. I spent one full Thanksgiving weekend with a friend tutoring me about the relativity of color, how just a small fragment of color can change the whole piece, how to manipulate and enjoy color. Everything changed after that weekend.
It was an invaluable experience, art school. It gave form to my love of color and need to paint.
I just finished reading what for most of the book seemed like the worst possible story I could be reading right now and yet I have to say it is a really good book. The culprit (if I may be so bold as to title it) is The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer. The emotions of the characters in the book feel very real, are understandable, well drawn. At times the style was overly poetic, hard to follow, but that is common in contemporary writing. (Is poetry supposed to be obscure?) The bad part for me is that it is about a young woman who is alienated from her family, who finds new connections by leaving home, finding a new home far from home, finding a new family. And this is bad for me because I live so far from my daughter and my son is about to leave Halifax for Montreal and I will have no family here and I don’t like this, any of it. Yesterday as I was walking towards my car I could imagine myself picking up dog poop again. It has been three years since Katie died. At this time of year. And it took several months to pick up all the poop that was under the snow from the winter. So maybe it is (almost) time for another dog. A dog can be family but a dog is not a person.
Every year on April One, my mother would put salt in the sugar bowl and every year my father would forget that she did this and put salt in his coffee and then be very angry at my mother who would laugh and really enjoy her trick. Every year.