When chatting with Heidi at lunch yesterday, talk inevitably turned to how to get your artwork out in the world. She asked me if I believed in doing "The David Bowie.” Apparently, Bowie wanted to be a universal rock star so he acted like a rock star, even before he had that status.
Of course, yes. Do "The David Bowie." But then when you look beneath the surface of that, there are two things that are important. First, to act like you are a star, or to act successful, you have to have confidence, real confidance, to believe in yourself, in what you are doing. It's hard to fake. It's transparent. Secondly, that confidence should be well placed. Quite simply, the quality of the work is of utmost important. All the strutting in the world without a real body in the suit would just be another Emperor with No Clothes.
Doris McCarthy, at ninety-four, only stopped ice skating two years ago. McCarthy is a painter in the Group of Seven landscape tradition, lives in Toronto but spends her summers at her beloved cottage on Georgian Bay. She talks about this in her new memoir, Ninety Years Wise. What was most interesting about Doris McCarthy was the joy she expressed about her work and her life when I heard her this morning (on Sounds Like Canada). When Shelagh Rogers asked her how she felt about aging, Doris said it was wonderful: how wonderful that the fear is gone, how wonderful not to feel so self-conscious, to be able to do things because you wanted to, not because you were expected to. Of course, the weaknesses of the body are not wonderful but the maturity of the mind and spirit is.
And then I had lunch with a young friend who wisely said she thought people misunderstood the Fountain of Youth. It is not something that gives you clear, wrinkleless skin but rather a clear and joyful spirit. Obviously Doris McCarthy bathes in the Fountain of Youth.
Today is Tamar’s birthday. I remember vividly the day she was born. There was a little snow on the ground in Georgetown, D.C. After six months of craving peaches and cucumber sandwiches, I was about to give birth. My contractions were pretty intense and getting from the house to the car was difficult. I was only in the hospital for two hours before she was born. Not bad for a first child. It was an intense labor, an easy delivery. We had picked three names for a girl: Rachel, Shoshana and Tamar. I had to see her before I could decide but I knew that I wanted my children to have biblical names, some reference to their heritage, because I didn’t think I could give them more than that, what was contained in their name. With my first look at her, I knew she was Tamar. And indeed, she has lived up to her name.
The story of Tamar is about a woman of great strength and a strong ethical sensibility. It begins with Jacob and three of his sons. The most important of the sons was Judah, the son of Leah, because, before he died, Jacob said that Judah would become the leader of his people and, indeed, the Jews of today have that name because they are of the Tribe of Judah.
Judah first had three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah. Judah took a wife for Er named Tamar. However, Er was wicked and, according to the story, God killed him. In those days, there was a custom that when a man dies and leaves a widow, his next surviving brother is supposed to marry the widow and become her husband. Accordingly, Onan was obliged to marry Tamar, the widow of Er. However, Onan did not want Tamar to become pregnant because she was his brother’s wife. Onan disobeyed the will of God and spilled his seed on the ground. Therefore, God struck Onan dead, too. This made Tamar a widow a second time.
The third son was Shelah. However, Shelah was still a young boy, too young to be married. Judah was afraid that his third son Shelah would die, too. Therefore, he told Tamar to go back to her father's house and wait there and when Shelah became old enough, Judah would marry Tamar to him. She went back to her father's house and waited. Nevertheless, when Shelah was grown, Tamar had not been given to Shelah as a wife. Judah had not kept his promise.
Tamar then took off her widow's garment and instead put on a veil to cover her face. She went and sat by the road to Timnath. When Judah came walking by, because the face of Tamar was covered, he believed that she was a prostitute and he asked her what was her price for sex. She asked him how much he would give her. He said that he would send her a kid from his flock of sheep. She then asked him to give her his signet, his bracelets and his staff as security for this promise. Judah gave these to Tamar and then had sex with her. Tamar became pregnant. Three months later, word came to Judah that his daughter-in-law had been like a prostitute and was now pregnant. Judah ordered that Tamar be brought before him to be burned up.
When Tamar was brought, she said to Judah, "The man who has made me pregnant is the owner of these things." Then Tamar produced the signet, the bracelets and the staff which belonged to Judah. With that, Judah acknowledged that these things were his and said that she was more righteous than he because he had not kept his promise to her by not giving Tamar to Shelah as a wife. Therefore, Tamar was spared.
And I am so glad to have Tamar in my life. A person of great integrity, wisdom, intelligence and compassion. I’m a very lucky mother. She's a peach! Happy Birthday, Kid!
Loneliness. I once asked the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa about loneliness. I was a new meditator and was fortunate to be on the staff taking care of his household. (He was visiting and teaching in New York back in, I think, 1980). It was when I had first started meditating and had become acutely aware of how alone I felt. He asked me if I felt more lonely when I was alone or when I was with people. I said when I was with people. He then said, “You are allowing your mind to wander in samsara.” Creating my own sense of separation. That was it. That was what I had to think about for many years later. Compassion is the key. Compassion towards oneself as much as for others.
There is a big difference between being alone and lonely and being with someone and lonely. It depends on the walls we put up around ourselves, our various needs for protection. Most coupled women I know often say how lonely it can be to be with someone. Obviously there is a separation between people. We do not know everything about someone else nor do we really feel what they feel. But the physical presence of someone is real. A source of heat in the room, in the mind, in the room. A reminder. I think it might be self-absorption that makes us lonely when with people. Wanting confirmation from others. Wanting a witnesss.
Carrie, in The Dive from Claussen’s Pier, when thinking about not being with her fiancé after his accident, mused:
There were things I’d seen in him that perhaps no one else had ever seen or noticed—wouldn’t those things disappear along with my apprehension of them? Because we were caretakers of each other’s habits and expressions, weren’t we, witnesses who didn’t just see but who gave existence? Our coming apart would erase all those tiny moments and gestures and looks from everywhere but our separate memories, until even there our history would begin to fade.
Memories, history, all dependent on the point of view. And the importance of their being a point from which to view, a point that comes from (or to) another body. Human beings are a species that need other people, just like other animals need each other, run in packs.
The Karmapa gave me a lot think about. But sometimes profound meals of thought take years to digest.
The sun was bright today and the sky clear, just like they promised. A perfect day to catch shadows on the snow:
Nothing like the sun to make people smile here. I went into Halifax this morning and everyone was cheerful, exchanging stories of driving in the recent blizzard. It turned out the sales person in Radio Shack (I went in to buy a plug-in rechargeable flashlight, getting ready for the next power outage!) had been on the same plane from Montreal that I was on Sunday. He said he took the shuttle into Halifax and the driver went very slow, in the middle of the road, saying he didn’t care what anyone thought, let them get angry at him, and he didn’t know where they were but they were on the road!
My favorite Canadian winter joke says that driving is easier in the winter because the potholes are filled with ice and snow!
Tamar and I went for a walk along the beach in Santa Monica just a couple of days ago. The light was so very beautiful, the sun sparkling on the water, people surfing, walking, enjoying Christmas Day and family at the beach.
Then yesterday I went from the sunshine of Southern California:
to the many shades of grey of today, brought by a heavy winter storm in Eastern Canada:
They are predicting sunshine tomorrow. Sun and warm (above freezing) by the end of the week. Right now the wind and snow are creating blizzard conditions. A good day to stay inside, to tuck in, stay home. The snow plow has come to clear my driveway and he will have to come again later for sure. The snow hasn’t stopped. My plane came in last night just before the wind picked up intensity, now closing the airport. I drove home in difficult weather. A solid winter storm. What surprised me was the big eighteen wheelers tumbling down the highway, passing cautious cars and blowing snow up, increasing the invisibility of the road. And some cars taking chances, speeding along and passing when it was hard to see the road. I called Aaron from the airport in Montreal and we both hoped my plane would be cancelled so I could spend the night there with them. But we came in on schedule and it is good to be home.
But even my home feels strange. Big changes here. I rearranged the furniture in my living room, something I rarely do, move furniture, or even change the color of the walls. But I decided to move my computer so that I could see the lake while working and that meant moving my couch which meant moving chairs as well and on and on. The couch is now facing the lake directly, making it a very powerful spot to watch nature unfold. After eight years of having it in one spot, rearranging the furniture makes the room so very different. The ceiling is finished in my studio and the paintings moved back in. It looks very clean and orderly. Of course, that will change soon enough, when I get back to work! But there is still a lot of cleaning, organizing, filling up the green files (garbage bags) before I can start the factory going again. But at least, as has happened before, I didn’t get stuck at an airport.
When you read this I may be in the air over the Grand Canyon, or I may be going through Customs in Montreal, or perhaps I am driving home, almost midnight, to my solitary home by the lake in the woods, wondering why I am going to this home, why I live here so far away from the people I love most, my children, in another time zone.
Usually when I pull into my driveway I understand the pull of my life in Nova Scotia, the peaceful, quiet life, the beautiful landscape, the sounds of water rushing by my house all year round. When I walk into my empty house this time, the ceiling will be fixed in my studio, the paintings back in place downstairs, lots of papers and magazines to sort through, toss, clean up after a major renovation. Cleaning up from many years of pushing things aside. Another phase of my life in my home.
Yet it always makes me wonder what makes a home. A house, the people in it, the life that happens there, the choices. I chose this place after many false starts. This is the third house I have owned in Nova Scotia, my sixth residence in the twenty plus years I have been living there. I feel more at home in this house, maybe because I had a major say in designing and building it, maybe because the setting is so very beautiful and peaceful. But a home is only what you put in it, people and thoughts and activities.
I felt more at home living in New York City than I did growing up in Bethesda, Maryland. I would walk for hours through the streets of Manhattan at all hours of the day and night, never feeling the fear or strangeness that most people expect. Now when I visit NY I feel the speed of people rushing by, feel I could be run over by people if I stand too long on the sidewalk. A foreign, unpleasant feeling now after living in a slower environment. I love NY but have no desire to go back there to live. Nor do I have any regrets about leaving any of my other “homes.” I do like living away from noise and speed, waking up to trees and birds as companions.
After my last visit with Tamar and her family, in September, it was very difficult to go “home.” I wanted to turn around and go back to LA right away. I had to be where I was, to work, to plan, to associate, create and now that I have spent some more time here and some in Montreal with Aaron & Jessica, perhaps, maybe, it will feel more like home when I get back to Nova Scotia. Taking my memories with me, building new ones.
Tamar thinks this is just another palm tree picture, but how often do I, a girl from Nova Scotia, see such a warm blue sky on Christmas Eve day? She said she didn't even notice the sky. Her main complaint about the skies around here is that they hardly ever get interesting clouds.
Yesterday I was walking down Sunset with Tamar, Damian and Tamar's friend Michelle when we saw this lovely lady outside a guitar store. I had to go back and get my camera.
These are the Asian pears I love so much. Juicy, eh!
Another page-turner, A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews is a story about a Mennonite family in southern Manitoba. Jessica lent it to me on the voyage here and I swallowed it whole, in just a couple of days of reading. A very interesting study of teenage angst in a complicated religious setting. Told from the point of view of sixteen year old Nomi who has little more to look forward to than killing chickens in the local factory, her pithy understanding of her life is both amusing and painful.
She describes her culture as one that doesn’t separate church and state but does separate feeling and reason. Where people are excommunicated for disobeying religious codes, separated from their families, friends; shunned. Where people are forced to chose between love and church. The book evolves around discovering why both her mother and sister were forced to leave the community. In a town where Main Street leads nowhere, just ends in dust, and there is no train, no easy exit, the story unfolds to an astonishing, sad, pointed ending.
A short book; a good read. But now, after three books in two weeks, I’m having a hard time settling into another one. I’ve picked up and discarded two already. I feel naked without a book to read. At least the climate is warm here.
If you saw my age on a piece of paper, would you think differently of me? If I told you I was 102 would you think differently than if I told you I was 99? Or 49? 29?
Ageism is such a crippling concept. It is everywhere in our culture. The most pronounced in my life is the acceptance of the Faculty Union at school voting to accept mandatory retirement (a trade-off for a slight wage increase—until forced retirement!)
We are visual artists, working with our eyes and minds, not ballet dancers where the body tells stories. The stories I tell are from experience. My experience has been one of slow maturing into the process of making art. And even more, a slow process of learning how to teach, to impart the knowledge I have garnered from years of experience. I’ve been around the block and learned a few things on the way. You would think these qualities would be valued more.
They had a series about aging on CBC radio a while ago. What seemed to come up often was the realization that 80 is now what 60 used to be. With all the changes, innovations in medicine, people are living longer in more flexible bodies. A retirement age of 65 was originally set because most people died at that age and therefore wouldn’t be a drain on the Pension Plans anyway. And then, our youth oriented culture has permeated how “older” people see their lives. And computers have opened up a whole new way for people to reach beyond their immediate boundaries of space and age. Even grandmas and grandpas are often computer savvy.
Like most of the single people I know (of any age), I’ve tried a bit of internet dating occasionally and have come across a surprising phenomenon: even men lie about their age! A couple of men told me they were relieved to be honest about how old they were, this in situations where they were closer to my age. Most men state openly that they are looking for a woman who is at least five to fifteen years younger than themselves. I think it is the biological necessity of procreation that makes men think they “need” a younger woman where in fact, women, in general, outlive men, giving women, by this standard, too many years alone.
One interesting (brief) correspondence I had was when a man contacted me and said: “You don’t look your age; but then neither do I.” (In this case I had tried stating my age as five years younger, mostly because my friends had been urging me to do it considering that I do indeed look many years younger than my age, and actually responses to my profile were then tenfold greater.) I responded to him by saying: “Like you I don’t look my age, don’t feel it, nor seem it, so maybe I’m not!” I never heard from him again!
But really, I don’t want to be judged by my age. I'm mature, I've done my homework, and I can go out and play now.
I finished reading James Frey’s memoir A Million Little Pieces yesterday. Another memoir of a multiple drug abuser in a rehabilitation center. (The other one I read, and enjoyed, recently was Augustin Burrough’s Dry.) I don’t know why I have such a fascination for drug addicts and alcoholics, but there have been many in my life, more than I would like to recall. My Big X was an amphetamine addict for at least half of the thirteen years I was with him. Then came some part- and full-time alcoholics. One of the worst abuser was a heroin/cocaine/etc. user/dealer. And I always lied to myself about the reality of it all.
I have never been very good with the stuff myself. Was too close to the edge already. Not very interested in trying much, never tried cigarettes, didn’t even like coffee without lots of milk, didn’t enjoy the aftereffects of most substances. A little is nice occasionally. (But I have had a checkered history with prescription drugs, during my marriage, a story for another time, was once hooked on sleeping pills, when I didn’t want to be there, with him. I stopped cold turkey one day, didn’t sleep for a week and soon my marriage was over. And now I am big on vitamins and herbal remedies, something of a mental addiction, you could say, but I don’t ever want to get into any emotional dependency relationships with pills of any kind.)
I’ve found other ways to avoid facing problems. Denial, spacing out, wishful thinking. But if I were to go into the psychology of my attraction, I would label it a combination of poor self-esteem and misplaced compassion. Life is difficult. No doubt there. The First Noble Truth is “The Truth of Suffering.” It moved me into (Buddhist) meditation. It’s been a hard lesson: suffering does not disappear, just how you work with it, how you relate to it. Moving into oblivion through chemicals is understandable even if it doesn’t really work to end suffering, only causes more.
The style of Frey’s writing is intriguing: run-on sentences with little if any punctuation, repetition of phrases, on and on and on, capitalizing words mid-sentence to emphasize their importance. At the beginning it was very effective, enticing, verbally portraying the allure of drugs and the state of mind of an addict. There were times though when I would have loved to be the editor, cutting out so much repetition and clarifying some of his sentences, taking out a few words that didn’t seem to help. I often wondered why, when he did use commas, how he decided to use them. Were they used when his brain was functioning better (in his rehab experience), more grounded or was it an editorial oversight? And as usual in books like this, I found the dialogue during the therapy sections of the book a bit stilted and didactic.
But the story of his experience in the rehab center was another one of those fascinating (to me) books, the ones that keep me reading long into the night, preferring reading to sleeping. Different from Burrough’s story in Dry, Frey did not accept “The Program.” He faced his situation without the assistance of the “Twelve Steps,” didn’t believe in God or any other kind of higher power. He came to understand, through the help of his parents’ revelations about his very early childhood, probably the source of his rage that led him to addictions. That and a small book of Taoist sayings his brother gave him were the major events of his reconstruction as a workable human being. (Taoist sayings such as “If you understand that all things change, constantly change, there is nothing you will hold on to, all things change. If you aren’t afraid of dying, there is nothing you can’t do. Trying to control the future is like trying to take the place of the Master Carpenter. When you handle the Master Carpenter’s tools, chances are that you’ll cut your hand.”)
A serious alcoholic from the age of ten (to the point of passing out almost daily), at twenty-three he knew that if he drank again it would be immediate suicide. He came to the understanding that everything is a decision. Events do not make a person do things, behave as they do.
James: Every time I want to drink or do drugs, I’m going to make the decision not to do them. I’ll keep making that decision until it’s no longer a decision, but a way of life…………………….I’m going to live my life. I am going to take things as they come and I will deal with what is in front of me when it is in front of me. When alcohol or drugs or both are in front of me, I will make a decision not to use them. I’m not going to live in fear of alcohol or drugs, and I’m not going to spend my time sitting and talking with people who live in fear of them. I am not going to be dependent on anything but myself.
It takes an enormous will to live this way. Very few people have that kind of inner discipline. It would be a very different world if they did, for sure.
Tamar and I went to the Farmer’s Market on Sunday. We stocked up on persimmons and Asian pears, enough to keep me satisfied until I have to leave next Sunday, until I have to go back to the cold North where one pear costs as much as a dozen here and persimmons are rare. But we do have them now in Nova Scotia; we didn’t just a few years ago.
Damian and Dante helped us put the food away (well, more or less):
So much has changed from when I first moved North. Then people I knew would laughingly say that NS was thirty years behind the times. Nothing to buy there. I always liked the “nothing to buy” quality of the place. You start to see what is really important. Shopping is very time consuming. Better just to go out and get what you need. And when you think about it, that isn’t really so very much. (There was a time, though, about fifteen years ago, for about four years when I had a part-time administrative job that was good and bad for me—good for my public relations skills, bad for my painting mind—and would stop at a mall to deposit my paycheck, meander through the boutiques and inevitably buy a sweater or something and eventually give it away because the purchase was more to fill an emotional need than a physical one.)
But now our shopping options in NS are so much greater. When Aaron was first deciding whether to move back to NS a few years ago, he told me he would if I could find choyote in the market. And I did. And he did. For three years he was there cooking and eating one of his favorite vegetables from his life in Brazil.
Nova Scotia is catching up with the times. Good food in the markets, good restaurants, more good movies that stay around longer, some good furniture stores. Now all we have to work on is the weather!
We went to Watts Towers on Sunday afternoon, a very warm summer Sunday in December. I had been wanting to go there for several years but there never seemed to be the right time for it. This was definitely the right time. And I was impressed with how much more amazing the structures were than anything I had seen of it in books. The intricate lacework of the towers. The transforming quality of the architecture, how I felt peace just being there. There we were in what felt like an island, or a boat floating in the middle of Los Angeles, a busy metropolis, a city that disappeared, floated away while we were there.
Simon Rodia, born around 1879 and immigrated to the U.S. in the 90’s, built the towers, beginning in 1921 and continuing for 33 years. He used no machine equipment, no scaffolding, bolts, rivets, only a tile setter’s tools and a window washer’s belt and buckle. The nine major scuptures are decorated with a mosaic of broken glass and ceramics. He was considered a crazy man, an alcoholic with wild ideas. It is thought that he built the towers as a monument of atonement, a witness to the power of belief, a prayer of and to love.
At the end of the tour the guide gave Damian a stone heart and told him: “May you have everything your heart desires.” I would add: “Take care of your heart.”
A few months back, my friend Ray, after yet another “disappointing” blind-date where I had lots of hope beforehand, said to me: “Leya, you have to stop kissing frogs!” So on my birthday this year, Inge gave me the perfect frog, one that is just a frog, now and forevermore.
Frogs……….because of an innate restlessness that for too many years told me there had to be something better than what I was given, what I thought at one time was what I had wanted. I remember too often hearing my mother say that poisonous phrase: “if only” or “I wish.” How hard it is to be here, to accept, to see what is offered, to take and give what is needed.
Shortly before she died she told my sister “they treat their second wife better. Just wait and see.” And he did. And I know he regretted not having given her more of what she, my mother, would have wanted. I know my parents loved each other in the way people did when they did not consider divorce an option—there was respect, admiration, frustration, anger, all part of the decision to be married.
Damian understands about frogs. They are his favorite animal, his pals. He has a security frog he carries around most of the time. Just a mash of plastic that warms in his six year-old hand but he knows it is what it is even when he invests it with much more. Fantasy and reality blended into a pile of pleasure-loving-giving frogs. Just frogs.
The few days that I wasn’t painting before coming here for the holidays, I found my time opened up. It’s not the physical act, the time it takes; it’s the focus of the mind that takes up all the space.
The other morning, Tom Allen (on CBC radio) said there is a new theory about Neanderthals, that the reason they became extinct was not that they were an inferior species but on the contrary, were a superior civilization. They had a larger brain cavity than Homo Sapiens and therefore possibly a larger, more refined brain. It was the more aggressive homo sapiens who, because of their warring skills, wiped them out. Ouch!
Today is the first anniversary of my blog. I was here in LA a year ago visiting Tamar and asked her to help me set it up. I had been reading her blog, her journal, looking at her photo-blog, reading some of her friends’ blogs, had wanted to write something for a long time. And so here it is, a year later, a testament to the fact that sometimes I am surprised by what I do.
I have a long history of being shy in public, not saying much, not saying things that need to be said, allowing things to happen when in fact I should have been more outspoken. Usually a lot more went through my mind than most people ever heard about, often things that would have been better said aloud. But I would often get contradictory feedback that I was blunt, outspoken, forceful. I think this might be related to that fact that I have felt, and acted, very differently around different people, in different situations and I have often been impatient with ignorance. At this point, I am more consistently able to reveal what was bubbling underneath all that shyness.
Of course, writing this blog has changed me enormously, shockingly so. At first I would hesitate, can I really say this or that, to someone I may or may not know--will they take offense, will they challenge me. And even a few times I wouldn’t sleep well after posting something I felt was very revealing. But now, less and less, do I question myself, my entries. This is my blog, after all. It is my record of what I think, feel, do, what and who I rub up against, where my mind goes, what makes my fire.
The other day Yoko and I played duets for a group of people visiting at my house. I think of myself as someone who doesn’t like to play for people. But playing with Yoko over the past year (or more), and maybe because she is another person, I have come to enjoy playing for others. And not just for the quality of the music, sharing and things like that, but also the sheer exhibitionism of it. (Look what I can do!)
Then too, I find myself saying things in school that I would never have said, even six months ago. A big change. I don’t really know why. Maybe you (I) just get (got) to a point where we (I) know that life is so precious (and so short) that it just doesn’t matter any more. The important thing is to live and to live with enthusiasm.
When I was in San Francisco last September I bought a pin at the City Lights bookstore. It reads: “Fuck Art Let’s Dance.” I wear it almost every day on my favorite vest. Damian asked me what it said. I told him first that it said “Don’t get caught up in unimportant things, enjoy life.” Then I told him what it said literally, of course, explaining that “fuck” is not a word that is generally used in public but is useful in this context. On the airplane coming here, I found, once the flight attendants saw my button (I had forgotten it was visible), that they were warmer towards me. Everyone wants to enjoy their life, really!
I love rituals: the rituals of foods, the everyday lunch, the rituals of friends, of books, the bedtime book, the schedule. I often wonder if my parents had not been immigrant Jews feeling the need to assimilate, be more a part of a Christian culture, blending all our special holidays into a puree soup, if I would have appreciated Judaism more. If we had had a real Hanukkah, exchanged gifts, lit the menorah instead of putting the gifts under the Hanukkah bush and opening them on Christmas morning like our neighbors. If we had not had Easter baskets along with Passover at my grandmother’s house (with me usually the youngest child reading the Four Questions and always finding the hidden matzo with my uncle’s hints). If we had acknowledged Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur other than going to synagogue to kiss my grandmother’s cheek. If I had learned more about the contemplative, inquisitive nature of Judaism and less of the aggressive, exclusive qualities that repulsed me.
I know it is partly the rituals that attracts me to Buddhism, and certainly what keeps me there, along with the intelligence I find in the teachings. I love the rituals of my practice, ringing bells and throwing rice, reciting liturgy over and over. Being a part of a larger body of thought and way of relating to experiences.
I also love the unexpected, the interruptions, the non-planned. Of not knowing what is going to happen, what will evolve. Because really, that is how it is……………..
In the last five days I have slept in four different beds. Sounds enticing………but, no………just traveling. I had to leave my own bed early (Monday) to stay in Halifax at a friend’s because the fumes from my paintings (which are all now in my living room so that the ceiling in my studio can be fixed while I am away) were making me feel not-so-good.
Then two (blissful) nights on the couch in Aaron & Jessica’s beautiful apartment in Montreal (and one heavenly day hanging out in bookstores and Chinatown with them).
And now here for ten days with Tamar, Dan & Damain. It was a very tired me who crept into bed (in Los Angeles) last night.
And of course I dreamed of school and recalcitrant students! But better a dream than the classroom right now!
I’m heading out this afternoon—going to where flowers like these are an everyday fact, not the specialty excitement (these are a birthday gift from a friend) that they bring here in the cold north. My first stop is Montreal (cold, yes) and then on to Los Angeles (ah, warm sun!). So…..time to close up my computer and put it with my luggage. Talk to you from LA!
Seeing the pix of the sunrise over my lake, Yoko said she understands why I get up so early.
I’m just a country girl, rarely miss the sunrise. Love the early morning hours. The trees, the lake, the brook that are outside my door. After most of my years in Manhattan and then twenty-one here, I don’t think I could ever live in a city again. I can’t say I enjoy the isolation, the loneliness of country living, the (sometimes long and arduous) drive into town, but I do enjoy the solitude and beauty that surrounds me, that allows me to relax into my own being. Yet I do not want Lonely to be my roommate.
Carrie’s mother puts it perfectly in The Dive from Clausen’s Pier (by Ann Packer): “Lonely is a funny thing,” she said slowly. “It’s almost like another person. After a while, it’ll keep you company if you’ll let it.”
These thoughts as I am about to take off for the warm embrace of my children and the big cities they live in now, Montreal and Los Angeles.
Another (very good) student asked me Thursday during crits if I thought of my work as feminist. She and a friend had been looking at my paintings either on my website or on the Harbour Gallery site and they had been thinking about their own process, how they worked from their own personal lives and in that way, being female, they thought of it as feminist artwork.
That’s an interesting perspective. One I have pondered often and also, not at all. If I were to think too much about being a female painter in what has been over the centuries a very male-dominated occupation, then I would either stop painting (not very likely!) or gear my work to address an issue that I feel would be limiting. I prefer to paint because I am intrigued by the process, because I have a vision that transcends the personal, transcends me and my life.
As I see it, there are two distinctly different ways to approach making art. The first is to take a very personal idea/feeling/thought and make it universal; the second is to take a universal idea/concept and make it personal. I, of course, prefer the latter. That is in many ways what attracts to me abstract art: that I am not in the painting. I start out with very personal imagery and feelings: photographs (of people who have deep significance to me) silk-screened onto canvas that I collage onto the larger canvas. Then I write on top of that whatever thoughts are generated from the photographs. Obviously all this is nothing that I want anyone to see! But I do want the feelings to generate the painting. And for it to be “read” without my personal “life” as part of the story that someone else reads. (Something like the novelist writing from his or her life but not telling that story, just using the energy of their life.)
In NYC there was a well known artist who sews (and I don’t know if he still does) his paintings. They are very good paintings. For a few years in the 70’s, even before I became acquainted with his work, I did some sewn canvases. At that point I was looking for a way to clean up my paintings, to make the “statement” of the work clearer; they had been too “fuzzy,” no definite imagery, just a color field with some faint lines. In the sewn pieces, I would stain canvas (with thinned acrylic paint), cut it up and sew it back together in more obvious forms than I had been using. But people would usually comment on the fact that sewing equals female (even though most tailors have traditionally been male). If you want to push the point, I use male/female imagery now: circles/lines. But I don’t think much about that part of the painting, just about what feels right, what works at that point, what makes a painting sing, more about what kind of song than who is singing it.
I told my student that I used to think that the best thing to be, as a female artist, would be black (and tall……I just hit five feet which actually usually surprises people as my paintings are big and have boldness that belies my size, I am told). As a (tall) black woman I could proclaim ME, but as a short Caucasian, I don’t really think it is worth talking about. It is not the uphill battle of race discrimination, along with gender, for me.
And what I really feel most (strongly) is that the paintings REALLLY should speak for themselves!
Tis the season to be grading—and it is anything but jolly! I always thought good artwork was about integrity but I had some challenging exchanges yesterday, and not of gifts. An “A” seemed to be spelled with an “E” (as in Ego) or with an “I” (as in “I Want”). I was seeing students individually yesterday for one of my classes. First one student than another said they WANTED a better grade then they earned, therefore they thought they should have it. O boy!
The most outrageous was a student who said that if he had known what I considered better work he would have done more of that (which he did sometimes) and less of what he was doing most of the time (which was definitely inferior from a “good art” or “art school” point of view). He explained that, coming from a design background, you listened to the client’s wishes and then worked to give them what they wanted. And that, in his mind, translated into giving the teacher what she wanted. O my!
What I want is to have the students understand the process of making art and discover what they want to create and how to go about that, to learn the disciplines necessary to have the control to let things happen.
The reason this student WANTED an A was because he NEEDED it to get into Teacher’s College. Therefore I should give him an A. While we were continuing our (long and intense) conversation about grades, the next student walked in, whereupon the first student said, “Now THERE’s an A Student!” And I said “Yes, she IS.” So obviously the first student, the one who is COMPLAINING to me, knows the difference between what he is doing and what an A student does.
The second student is definitely/obviously an A student. She works hard in and out of class, her work is original, she is not looking to achieve but to discover, she has good critical evaluation of her work and of other’s work but especially of her own, leading her to continue to grow.
The whole question of grading art is suspicious. How many times do we “discover” a great artist long after they could have benefited from the recognition! A grade is based on talent, intelligence, hard work, progress, discipline, class participation, but what percentage of each of all of the above is really fair. Students come to school with different backgrounds, different kinds of talents, different personalities that effect how they relate to a classroom situation. Ultimately a grade is nonetheless subjective. There is no objective measure for judging creativity. No multiple choice exams, no outside standards. It isn’t fair, I agree, to be harsh in grading unless it is helpful to a student. Encouragement can often go a long way in helping a weaker student progress. But it isn’t fair to other students whose work is superior to inflate a weaker student’s grade.
Next semester I think I need to talk about grades much sooner so that students who are working for grades have an equal opportunity with students who are working to understand the process of making art. That doesn’t mean I will like that attitude any better though!
For my next group of critiques on Tuesday I hope I get a good night’s sleep before and I should probably come in (as my friend Brian suggested) with a catcher’s mask on!
Yoko lent me Ocean’s Eleven the other day. Shortly into the film, I found I couldn’t watch it thinking that anyone would get hurt. Even though they were criminals, thieves, pulling off a major Las Vegas heist, I cared about them, didn’t want anyone to get hurt or go back to jail. Geez, they were criminals! Aren’t we supposed to dislike criminals!?! (And they weren’t even described as profound people, their characters not fully developed, just attractive men, nice bodies, beautiful faces, seductive energy, yumm.)
So I had to ask Yoko what happens and she told me they are successful and no one dies so I watched (and enjoyed) the rest of the film.
For over a year now, since Hurricane Juan swept across my little piece of paradise, I have been looking at this lady of the stump and wondering how and when I could ask (make) her leave. She has been a reminder of the vicissitudes of weather here in beautiful Nova Scotia and a hindrance to my view. So, finally, I called a tree removal company and had an estimate today for the cost of her departure. It is high (expensive) but it feels like letting her squat on my land any longer is more expensive, robbing me of a broader view.
All this because I had a proper feng shui reading a few weeks ago and, since I am naturally a true believer (don’t need to be convinced of the existence of unseen energy forces), I am, as rapidly as the depths of my pockets will allow, implementing the suggestions. There are lots of things to do, all making sense, both practical and visual. Besides hauling away the debris from the hurricane, I have to finish off the ceiling in my studio. Until now it has had exposed beams and according to feng shui principles, that means cutting energy which is very bad for both health and prosperity. It will also mean less fumes being able to sneak up into my living space. So I am currently cleaning up my studio, a job long overdue, throwing away outdated, unusable items, sorting and rearranging. Then all my paintings and supplies have to come up into my living room and the work will take place, thankfully, while I am away over the next two weeks.
This is a lot to do along with getting ready to go away (shopping, sewing presents, cleaning, packing) and still teaching, eating, reading and sleeping. (Can’t paint, so that gives me some time I don’t usually have!) It’s going to be a very tired (and relieved) me who gets on that plane next Tuesday!
Well, after reading Tamar’s entry saying she was joining the Holidailies and having seen her do it last year (which actually inspired me, among other things to start my own blog whose anniversary is coming up soon and I definitely have some thoughts on that!), I decided to join myself (joining the Holidailies, that is). So……..I know already I cannot write an entry every day because I will be traveling and not have computer access a couple of days. My travel plans (this time) include two days in Montreal to visit Aaron & Jessica and then on to Los Angeles for ten days to visit Tamar, Dan & Damian. Lucky me!
Crow Lake (by Mary Lawson) really took me by surprise. The story takes place mainly in the heart of the Canadian Shield, in farm country, where the houses are few, the land rough and isolating. I started it because, after the convoluted events in The Theory of Relativity, I thought it would be good to read some lighter fare. At first Crow Lake reads simple, in a straightforward manner, direct, to the point, almost child-like from a child’s point of view. But in the end, the accumulated insights and self-discoveries are very profound and magical.
The landscape of the Morrison family—two parents and four children between the ages of two and seventeen—is dramatically changed after a devastating automobile accident, killing the parents and leaving the children orphaned. The story is told in first person, from the point of view of the third child, a girl, Kate, who is very close to her second oldest brother. Yet as they grow older, her expectations for him color her ability to see him as he is and causes stress in all her relationships.
In her family the Eleventh Commandment was: Thou Shalt Not Emote. Realizing the necessity to accept, embrace, express her emotions becomes Kate’s story. The prose is spare and direct and totally engaging. This is definitely one of those books that I am glad to have known.
George W. passed through town on Tuesday and roads were blocked off. Forty-five minutes waiting in a long line of cars. I turned off my engine and listened to the radio to hear where he was and what he was doing. But……why Halifax? Did he think we wouldn’t protest? Ha! But then, he was brought in the back door and missed the 3500+ protestors outside. No incidents, just not open hearts and pockets. I heard there were only two pro-Bush signs; the rest were basically go home and take your war in Iraq and weaponization of space with you! (The students at school were irate that our school president attended the ceremony. He did offer an apology.)