So the trip home wasn’t as bad as the trip down. All the planes (the first and the second one) were late so I didn’t miss my connection. And I had a really good book to read and knew I wasn’t going to miss anything at home anyway (no one was there) so it wasn’t stressful.
I was reading another book about dogs by Jon Katz, finished it in one day. I’ve read most of his books and plan, in the near future, to read the ones I haven’t yet. This one was called A Good Dog: the Story of Orson Who Changed My Life. I had read about Orson in Katz’s other books so I knew he was not an easy dog. He was restless, impulsive, crazy, intense, and very insecure, not seeming to be able to do what human beings expect of their dogs to do. And Katz was determined to help Orson adjust to life with humans. In the process, Orson brought many changes to Katz’s life, helped him to become the person he wanted to be and to live a life more suited to him.
The story of the deep love he felt for his dog (and the dog for him) was very powerful. I sat on the plane with very wet eyes and tears fell (in the evening at home) as I read the sad yet peaceful ending. I feel very connected to his story. It was in many ways, similar to my life with Lila. Only she is a very different dog than Orson, with different “issues.” Orson was easily aroused, overly excitable, as is Lila, but he was more territorial than she. Orson was a nipper and Lila can be as well, but his was a protective instinct. For her, it is uncontrollable excitement.
When I picked her up at Bonnie’s, she was playing with a new ball Bonnie had given her, yet when the other dogs in the room took it away from her, she just looked confused, not angry. She had a wonderful time at her doggie resort, played enthusiastically with the other dogs, rested at quiet time, became a favorite of the owner’s husband, generally was very well behaved. She’s happy to be home, wagged her tail for the first hour here yesterday, stays near me as always.
She’s an intense little dog, needs “work” the same as Orson. During the first few months with her, when my legs were bruised from her running into me and jumping up and I couldn't figure out what would help her, many people suggested I think about giving her back. I never wanted to give up on her. She has not been easy. But I’m learning how to be with her and it is worth it. She loves training exercises, loves to please, loves to make mischief, loves to play. She's naturally good with other dogs; it's the people world she needed to learn about. She’s changed my life as I search for ways to calm her, help her with her sensitivities, both emotional and physical, find dog playmates for her, give her enough exercise, find the right foods. She’s had chronic earaches since I first got her. I’ve tried many methods to help her: Western medicine, Chinese herbs, homeopathy, osteopathy, an animal communicator, and lots of training. She’s been improving impressively recently (especially since the osteopathy three weeks ago). She’s much calmer. I took her to one of my (two) holistic vets today. The last time Jennifer had seen Lila, maybe six month ago, Lila couldn’t stay still, was pacing, jumping up, tearing the mat apart, not letting Jennifer touch her. This afternoon she sat still, obedient and curious. When Jennifer put drops in Lila’s ear to clean it, I could feel my pup relax, become heavy in my arms. Her discomfort is probably responsible for much of the restlessness she has had since I got her almost a year ago.
This dog brings me a better life. She brings me out of my solitary life. I am healthier because of having her. I’ve had to find ways to heal my (often) sore back so I can be with her. Walking with her for an hour or two a day keeps us both fit. I’m meeting many of the people on my (two kilometers of) road. (Almost every household around here has a dog or two.) And it’s so nice to have a warm, loving presence in my house.
We’ve been together one year. We’ve only just begun.
It’s sad to leave here. Damian was worried I'd leave before he was awake, but I'll make sure to give him a big hug and kiss before I am whisked to the airport. I'll miss his cheery chatter and lively humor but I am really eager to be back with Lila. I got an email this morning telling me she has had a wonderful time playing with all the other puppies. My plane gets in late so I will pick her up tomorrow.
I do hope traveling is easier than it was coming down here. I transfer planes in Montreal, a less congested airport than Toronto, so maybe. . .
It is a time of resurrection of the daylight. The winter solstice is past. The days are getting longer. The holidays are closing down. Chanukah is past, Christmas has gone by. And what did it all mean. Pretty candles for Chanukah; pretty tree for Christmas; lots of presents. But mostly what it really means is spending time with family and friends. I couldn’t put any more religious significance to any of it than I can for any other time (or day) of the year. Every day has its own importance. But what this season does give me is a reason to visit my children because there is no school.
Today was the real holiday excursion: Tamar, Damian and I went into The City for the day. Where if you stand still on the street you get run over by people. And it was extraordinarily crowded today. I lived here for almost twenty-five years but I guess I’ve become a country girl. The crowds were, I must admit, overwhelming.
First we went to visit my friend Harriet on the Upper West Side near where we used to live. Harriet and I met in Riverside Park with our very young children (three and nine months) who became fast friends. We’ve kept up a friendship. From there we went to lunch with my nephew Rob at a Jewish Dairy Restaurant above the diamond exchange on 47th street. (I don’t think I have seen that many Jews in one place since I left Manhattan twenty-two years ago. It brought back a lot of memories for living here and from my childhood.) Then we walked around midtown, saw the tree and skaters at Rockefeller Center, the amazing window displays on Fifth Avenue, and treated ourselves to pastries at an elegant Japanese bakery. We were exhausted by the time we got on the train to come back here. Too tired to download all the photos we captured of the City. Another time.
Below are photos of Jackie's studio and of her. Her studio is so different from mine. It's much more organized. Or maybe she just straightened up for my visit. I love going into different artists' studios and seeing how they work, how they organize, what materials they use. To see work in progress. I always find it inspiring. Creativity is infectious.
The last day I was in Ottawa I went to visit my friend Jackie. She was a student of mine a few years back. We got in touch again some months ago when she emailed me after seeing a video I was in on TV. It was being aired on BRAVO. A production company in Moncton, New Brunswick had given me some music composed by a musician in Manitoba and they had given him a painting of mine. (I think it was in the summer of 2002.) He was to create some music to my painting and I, a painting to his music. It was a lot of fun. They had shots of me in my studio painting, some talking about my work, and also some swimming and boating. Ultimately, I didn’t like the painting I did, so it has gone through many changes and become something else.
It was so good to see Jackie again, to see she is painting a lot, very good work. It’s exciting for me to see students mature, especially if they are still making art. I think I’ve mentioned the statistics before. But, here it is again: of the graduating class, ten years later, 10% will still be making art. Of those 10%, 10% will be making over $10,000 a year from their work. Roughly, 1% succeed financially. The rest? Good question! It’s not an easy life, trying to make a living making art. Teaching is a good gig. Nice work, if you can get it. (And keep it.) Given the proliferation of galleries in Manhattan, it feels like more than the 1% are exhibiting.
Most artists need a good “editor” in the early years. And maybe later too, come to think about it. I suppose that is what school is, but that kind of mind needs to become part of the working process. So many times I have thought I had a really good painting only to look at it the next day and wonder what I was thinking. The real test is, as always, time.
I don’t mind being away from my studio at times. It is nourishing to be in another environment, especially with my children and friends. Making art is a twenty-six hour a day job. And I take it with me wherever I go.
From my aunt’s apartment in the Village, I went to the Museum of Modern Art. I was eager to see the Brice Marden exhibit. I had always loved the richness of his encaustic monochrome paintings of the sixties and seventies, the sensitivity and strength of them but have a harder time with the snake-lines of the eighties and nineties. Seeing them in person was more rewarding than from reproductions, of course. Seeing how he searched and discovered the painting, seeing his painting process. But I came away feeling that it’s time for him to move on. I want more. I want that early richness in his paintings to come back. (But then, I do love density, intensity.)
In my painting life, until I moved to Nova Scotia in the early 80’s, I found I changed my working methods about every four years. I covered the bases until I finally came home. Tried all kinds of media and methods. Once I started incorporating collage into the paintings, it has been more of a straight line towards a still unknown goal, a search leading forward, not sideways as it sometimes felt. But the interesting thing to me is that when I look back on my early paintings there is so much there about what I am doing now. The same intense interest in color, in an active color field, in gestural lines. With Marden’s work, the shift he took from a solid color field to snake-like lines came after ten years of what he considered a creative abyss. I’d love to see the work from that period. So much can be learned from what doesn’t work. It would be so interesting to me to see how he came to where he is now.
From the museum, I went back to my friends’ loft in Soho and hung out for the evening. Had an amazing meal, reminisced and caught up on our lives. I lived on the floor below with Tamar, Aaron and our golden retriever, Miranda for a few years. That was about twenty-five years ago. We were young and liked to party. Many memories. I don’t mind getting older. I just don’t like my children to get older too.
Tamar met us the next day and we had a nice lunch in Soho. We will all go into the city again, probably Wednesday. Meanwhile, I’m feeling very laid back, enjoying the lack of pressure, not making too many plans.
Yesterday I went into Manhattan. My plan was to do the galleries, check out a few museums, visit friends, enjoy the sights and sounds. But . . . I felt like the country mouse in the city, Overwhelmed. Even though I lived there for almost twenty-five years, know the streets, the transit system, know how to maneuver around the fast moving crowds, it still seemed like too much activity.
So after leaving my overnight bag at my friends Leah and Pedro’s, I went to visit my 101-almost-102 year old aunt, Marcella. I was at her 100th birthday party, a memorable event where she kept us all entertained with her humor and joy at being feted. (March 9 and 10, 2005 entries with photos.) She lives, still, in the same apartment she always did. Now someone is with her all the time, she is unsteady on her feet and no longer can cook for herself. She does go out for short excursions, loves a good meal, enjoys company. Except for some short-term loss of memory, her mind is good. Her body is weaker than when I visited her last May but she is still very curious and lively in speech.
She greeted me warmly, asked me about my life, what am I doing, do my paintings sell, do I show them, if I color my hair, told me she thought it was too dark, asked me if I had a boyfriend, and then she said never get married, just live together. When you get married, she said, something goes out of a relationship. I showed her photos of Lila and of course she liked her, commented what good company dogs are. We talked some about family. She was delighted I went to visit my sister. (So am I.) Eventually she was tired and lay down for a nap. We held hands. She told me she is no longer a good hostess. She said in a year you will remember this. Indeed I will.
She is the last of my mother’s many sisters. They were all formidable, strong women. Sadly, because of their family patterns, they had more intelligence than they were able to use creatively often enough. There was an underlying frustration for all of them.
I look at Marcella and I see my history, my grandmother, my mother, my sister, all of us at once. Being with her, seeing her age, peppered with vinegar, spice, sugar and grace. She helps me appreciate my family.
The yellow-brick road was a little muddy today. Making travel difficult. I arrived at the airport early enough to take the 10 am plane but was scheduled for the 11:00 one so I decided to wait it out because my baggage was on the later plane and I knew I wouldn’t be able to clear customs without it. But . . . the 11:00 plane was forty minutes late getting into Toronto, so, even though I did get through customs in time, the plane left a minute before I got to the gate. They had already put me on a 3 pm plane to Newark but didn’t tell me so I had rushed to get the 1:40 one. But then . . . the 3 pm plane didn’t leave until 5 pm so . . . I didn’t get into Newark until after 6. I am now at Tamar’s house but she and Damian have gone into NYC to meet Dan and go to the Bitter End to see Damian’s drum teacher perform with his rock group. Without me!
I had one other horrendous plane experience. When Tamar et al were living in LA and Damian was about a year and a half. It was just after New Year’s and everyone was going back to school, myself included. Being very trusting (or naïve), I rarely check to see if planes are on time. So when I got to the airport early in the morning on a very warm sunny January day in LA, I discovered all planes were canceled because of a snowstorm in Toronto. When I finally got to Toronto (late that night), there were crowds of people hoping to get on the plane. As I no longer had a reservation, I was one of the hopefuls. But also because I had an airmiles ticket, I didn’t expect much. Sitting there, recovering from a bout of the flu, with a stuffy nose and slight fever, not feeling so great from all the waiting around, next to me was a young man on his cell phone yelling at his mother, telling her she had to get him on this plane, she had to do something right away, etc. etc. Everyone was looking at him but he kept at it. He did get on that plane. And, to my surprise, so did I.
Now I am happily here, settling in, playing their piano, looking forward to seeing them again, probably in the middle of the night when they return from Manhattan. Meanwhile I’m glad not to have to travel again for a week.
I’m off to New Jersey/New York this morning. Aaron is accompanying my suitcase and me to the airport, then on to work for him. (Maybe I should rename this blog The Saga of a Traveling Artist!) I’m going to visit Tamar, Dan and Damian for a week. Last year we were able to be all together for part of the holidays. I wish we could again this year. Next year for sure.
There is a bit of glamour in saying “I am an artist.” Everyone wants to be an artist. Why not. It’s a good life. Creating, using the imagination, massaging the spirit, as a job. In school we were encouraged to say, “I paint.” More modest. But it takes great confidence to make art, to keep going. Not to doubt. Even when the work is not going well, not becoming what is wanted by oneself, by the public. That’s when it is most difficult to be “an artist.” I have a friend who is very ill with advanced cancer. She uses all her available energy each day to paint. Her work now is acrylic on paper, and very exciting. I already knew her for quite a while before she was a student of mine at NSCAD. I and the other students consistently admired her work and especially her integrity. Her work was about searching, seeking and finding. She has abundant talent, always did interesting, exciting work, yet she was also always doubting herself. But it has taken near death for her to tell me she finally is confident she is an artist and has been all her life. I always found her directness and questioning admirable. But too much doubt is unhealthy, especially in the production of artwork.
I’m very lucky, live well. I’m able to do many things other people of my income level can’t do, just because I am an artist. I pay for my massage with artwork. My vet too takes art, as do many other services. I’ve had haircuts and clothes and garden help for paintings. If only the gas stations would realize they need art on its walls to bring in more customers. If only the grocery stores would understand how important art is to nourish their patrons. If only. . . So far I’ve managed to land on my feet. I left a difficult marriage with two children, a fish tank, two cats (who quickly became eleven then three), and then added a dog and another fish tank. (I’m sure there were some gerbils in there too somewhere.) Moved with this menagerie around Manhattan and with one child and one dog, to Nova Scotia. . . with major immigration hassles and no job.
Right now I’m about to open a new door, one I’ve never seen before. I have no idea what’s behind that door. Perhaps it’s a tiger. Maybe a lion. We will see. Soon enough. But I’ll always be painting. I have no doubts.
I went to a bar yesterday with a friend I haven’t seen in a couple of years. He had a beer; I had some Perrier but that’s not the point. Behind him, over his head was a TV showing sports event. There was also one behind me, a couple over the bar and in every other corner (and center) of the room. Although neither of us was interested in what was on the TV, being genuinely wanting to talk to each other, catch up on our lives, I couldn’t help but glance occasionally up at the moving images on the screen. And I also noticed him doing the same. It was very distracting, disconcerting. When I came back to the apartment and mentioned this to Aaron and Jessica, Aaron said when he was studying dance and theatre at Concordia, he was told that any time you put a moving image of any kind behind you, attention automatically goes there; you become invisible. The only kind of light-image that can work is a slide show where the images change slowly.
The party Aaron, Jessica, Shaya and I went to Saturday night was a potluck. There were a lot of delicious dishes: cheeses, salads, casseroles, dips. The food was good, went quickly. Then the desserts came out. It was fascinating watching the faces and body postures of people approaching the elaborate dessert table. There was an eagerness, a ripple of joy running through the bodies, people eager to indulge. No longer the sensible adults enjoying a good meal, everyone became an excited child. Happiness from the taste of forbidden pleasures.
Often here either Aaron or Jessica ask me what I am saying and I realize how much I talk to myself. Lila doesn’t mind, but also notices. Now I am really noticing. My mother used to talk to herself a lot. It’s normal, right!
We took Shaya to the airport this morning. She went back to Toronto where her mother is now, then they travel a little more and in January, back to Brazil. After three years, it was so good to see her again. She’s been studying English for the past two years and is quite good. We did have a Portuguese-English dictionary handy and Aaron knows Portuguese, so communication was easier than last visit, although it never has seemed too difficult.
It’s very quiet here now. Shaya is very much missed.
After a lovely late morning breakfast of blueberry pancakes, Aaron, Shaya and I went to see Happy Feet. It was good. I’m not much on most animation. This was well done. At one point I wondered how the movie-makers were going to manuvour out of the mess they were in, but it worked okay. They did it. And it was nice to see the environment (over-fishing being the message here) being taken care of (people finally caring and doing something about it) in the movie, even though it isn’t happening in reality. I did see The March of the Penguins earlier this year and enjoyed it much more. Penguins are cute, but in reality, they have such a hard life. That’s mostly what I was thinking when watching them dancing on the ice and snow.
We walked home from the theatre. Ottawa is a large small city. Very nice, clean. Tonight we are going to a party. It’s been very relaxing, being with my family in a warm friendly home away from home.
Thursday afternoon was the official ‘retirement’ party at NSCAD for me. I must say, although I didn’t expect it, and certainly didn’t want it to happen, I really enjoyed the event. There must have been about a hundred people there, faculty, staff and student union. Lots of food and decorations with subtle lighting in the drawing studio where I usually teach. I was given carte blanche (by my faculty friends) to do whatever I wanted, more or less, like breaking into the food line, sitting where I wanted (moving someone else’s things off “my” chair) and such.
The “ceremonies” were friendly and thankfully brief. Not only was I given a Long-Term Service Award in a beautiful walnut frame, but was surprised to receive a magnificent azalea plant and also a handmade box with inlaid NSCAD traditional design, filled with drawings by the Fine Arts Faculty. I was very touched. The comments were complimentary and honest, mentioning the students’ protest to my forced retirement. One student offered a tribute to me that was read by the head of the department. Alex showed a list of all the classes I have taught over the years, never missing a semester: fall, winter, summer. (It was impressive, although as part-time faculty, that was a financial necessity.) He also mentioned it was hard to believe I was ready to retire, with my youthful spirit and abundant creativity. Then another instructor took the microphone and said she once came into my classroom and saw a “hot young chick” bending over another student’s work. When the “chick” turned around, she realized it was me. “So”, she said, “Leya is not only young in spirit but also in body.”
The event left me with a very warm feeling towards something that is not my choice. This is a big change in my life. Probably I will be asked back at times to teach, given classes when they are available, maybe, but basically it is a change in my income, in my security, and most important, my identity. It’s hard enough to be a self-supporting artist, to wait for sales, to ride the fickle market, receive praise and criticism from the viewing public, acceptance and rejections often equally. To teach at NSCAD University carries status. At least I can say I did, and, if the rules change, may again. I’m too young, in every way, to be put out to pasture.
Aaron and Shaya met me at the airport. With big smiles and big hugs. Aaron had a meeting to go to at work so Shaya and I spent the afternoon doing Sudoku; then we went to a café to draw. She drew some fantastic fantasy pictures and I drew her. After teaching drawing for twenty years, it’s fun to be on the other side: just draw. And I have to keep reminding myself of things I tell my students, mainly, draw what you see, not what you know. It’s all about relativity, seeing where things actually are, about looking for the reference points.
It’s so good to see Shaya again. Three years is a long time not to see my granddaughter. She looks the same, just a little older.
After a delicious family dinner I’m ready to tumble into bed.
I take off for Ottawa this morning. First Lila goes to Chester Basin to her doggie resort, then I go to the airport. And then I will be having lunch with Aaron and his daughter Shaya in Ottawa! I’m very excited, eager to go.
Apparently it is unseasonably warm there too. Shaya is disappointed. Coming from Brazil, she was hoping to enjoy snow in Canada. But I’m not unhappy that the roads are not icy as they usually are at this time of year.
From Ottawa I go to NJ/NYC on Tuesday for the pleasure of visiting with Tamar et al. I’m making the holiday loop.
Some paintings come easily, some not. This painting was first one pale yellow five feet high, three wide. It was boring. So then I added the two side panels, each two feet wide. They were more exciting so then I worked on the middle panel and changed the yellow altogether. The end result, from there:
I don't think I will make any more changes on this one. This is it!
Sometimes making art is hard work, a struggle, work. Those paintings, when I stay with them, eventually bring great joy. Or they get put in a corner for bad behavior. Yet sometimes a painting just paints itself. I don’t feel I have too much to say, it just happens. I don’t know where it comes from. It just does. It exists on its own.
Like the five panel piece, this one also painted itself. Those images at the top are new and not new. They've been in other paintings, but I usually paint them out. Here they demanded to stay. So that's were they will live.
A few weeks ago (November 14) I posted a photo of a painting I was working on. The five panels work well together even though they are each so distinctly different colors, something unusual for me. The response I received to the painting was overwhelmingly “don’t’ touch it; don’t do any more to it.” But I have, of course. It was just the beginning stage, and yes, it did look good but it was not yet where I wanted the painting to be. (I may still do a small bit more to it, but it won't be a noticeable/major change.)
I thought a lot about why people wanted me to leave the five panel piece as it was and why I didn't want to. Mostly it was about the sense of mystery that I felt it needed. It was all too obvious. I liked it too but there is a level of complexity that I look for that wasn't there yet. I'm excited about the final painting and don't think it has lost any of the qualities it had before, the spontaneity and excitement, but has even more to it.
Winter gave us no warning. It was unseasonably warm and now it’s cold. We had another snowstorm yesterday. Around 4:30 in the afternoon the power went out. I was making some chicken soup. After all the things one needs to do in a power outage—finding and lighting candles, turning off the computer, turning off the stove, making sure there is water—Lila and I curled up on the couch in the candlelight, she chewing on a bone and me just petting her. It was so peaceful, I wondered if I could keep that calm feeling when the lights were on. Sometimes I can.
This snowfall was even more beautiful than the last one. It stayed on the tree limbs, covering everything like white icing on a cake.
Walking out of my massage treatment this morning I felt like hugging myself. It was a very strange feeling. She obviously had done a good job. Releasing lots of tensions built up over the past few months. Months of worrying. Poor sleep. Uncertainties underneath the continuum of daily tasks and pleasures. It felt so good to feel that warmth towards myself. I don’t remember ever feeling it quite like this before. It was very physical. Sensuous. It felt good. I’ve heard often that emotions can become physical. Illness can come from misguided thoughts. In reverse, healthy thoughts can feel, literally, very good.
It’s always been easier for me to look for this warmth and acceptance from someone else. Only recently am I coming to understand the pleasure of feeling comfortable within myself. But that kind of self-love was labeled conceited in my family. Compliments were to be avoided, to avoid conceit. The result was insecurities and doubts, the opposite of what was intended. In Buddhism there is the term maitri which means loving kindness, gentleness towards oneself and others. Most philosophies/psychologies/religions embrace this idea. It has to start with oneself, otherwise it cannot be genuine towards others. I learn this over and over, especially when I spend time alone—with myself. The need to make friends, first, with oneself.
I was reading this morning that people used to have three close friends. Now most people have only one, maybe two and this is not seen as healthy. We need each other, need to confide, share, enjoy. But how do you define a friend. I have many friends, each bearing different qualities of friendship. Some are more movie friends, some more book friends, some dog friends, some I share more with more often than with others. My friends—well, I have Lila, and yes, I know, she’s a dog, but she is with me a lot, I confide in her, share my home with her and we spend many hours a day, often the most memorable times, together. Another friend of mine, one I’ve know fairly well over the past year—well, our friendship is fading because I have changed so much recently, we no longer feel comfortable with each other. I don’t want the same kind of friendship I seemed to have wanted a year ago. So even friendship is fluid, changes.
It does feel very good to be my own friend. And I'm one person who will always be with me!
This was the last week of studio time in my classes. Next week we have individual evaluations and then that’s it. No more school for me. Unless things change. Which they might in the future. St. Mary’s University faculty are going on strike to protest mandatory retirement. Not NSCAD University. But still, things can change.
Meanwhile, I had a couple of very enjoyable classes this semester. Both groups worked hard and produced interesting work. This week we had models in both classes. In my Foundation Drawing class the model was older (than the students), probably in her fifties. These students have not, for the most part, had much experience drawing the figure, and I was surprised how they depicted aging. It was definitely not flattering. Mostly, they exaggerated the sagging body. Once I had a model who had had a mastectomy. Some instructors didn’t want to use her. But she was an excellent model; I’d known her for several years before her surgery. She was also older, in her sixties at the time. In one particular class, a water-based drawing class, the students did their best work with her. Their compassion showed in their work. They were also more experienced with the figure.
At their request, I also showed slides of my work in both classes, gave a forty-some year view of my own artistic search. One student asked where my ideas come from. That would take several hours to explain. Basically, I can say they come from other paintings I have done. One painting leads to another. There is an inner push within each painting to become another one, and another one. Or sometimes what is left out of one becomes another.
My figure drawing class had asked me to bring in drawings I had done of the figure. These were from the early 70’s when models were paid very little. I drew a lot, sometimes sharing a model, often on my own, and perfected line drawings where the figure is pushed beyond the edges of the paper. I have a large drawer full in my flat files and it was interesting going through the drawings to pick some to take in. I don’t look at them often and I found I liked them better than I remembered. I wouldn’t draw the same way now but I still enjoy them. And the students appreciated seeing them as well.
I feel very sad at the thought of not teaching next semester but will definitely appreciate more time in my studio. And who knows . . .
Lila wasn’t so sure about the snow at first. We had driven home Monday when the heavy snowfall started. I had planned on going for a walk with her in Point Pleasant Park after teaching but it was starting to rain heavily so I decided to leave Halifax. I’m glad I did. Most people told me it took them four hours to go a few blocks. The sudden thick snow after the intense rain made the roads treacherous and slick.
Lila looked out the window, fascinated, the entire way home. Yesterday morning she raced around the property with glee. Then we went to Point Pleasant park and she had a wonderful time playing with her dog friends in the snow. She has her special friends, Stella, Saffie, Kiku. It fascinates me how when I say their names she perks her head up looking for them and when she meets one in the park she knows exactly who they are. Friends.
It’s supposed to rain over the next few days. Warm up. Then get cold again. The weather has been spooky. It was unusually warm last week. When I was in Cleveland, it felt almost like summer (well, summer here in Nova Scotia). I went to the Farmers’ Market with my sister and the light on the produce was enchanting.
On Saturday we all (except for my sister and her husband—they needed some time-out!) went to Amish country to explore the cheese factories. I had an enjoyable conversation with a young Amish man selling pellet stoves. He had one I coveted and his price for installation was quite low. He said he would be willing to come here in his horse and buggy (at five miles and hour!) and install it for me. But that would have to wait for better weather. Actually, I don’t have the necessary space for a pellet stove (you need four feet of wall away from windows) so he doesn’t need to take the trip after all.
I don’t have a good relationship with birthday parties, the ones that were for my birthday. I don’t remember one that felt happy. I still believe in happy, but not a party. Not for me. They work better for other people. Something major always happens, feels uncomfortable, unpleasant. Maybe it’s too many expectations. Poor planning. I don’t know. I’ve had a few great birthdays. The ones where I was with close friends and/or family. But not major party birthdays.
My recent visit to my sister’s was a birthday present from her. She’s always been generous for my birthday, and this one, took the cake (although it was homemade ice cream and cookies for us)! Tamar, Dan and Damian drove from New York, bringing D.’s son, Rob. My sister’s other son lives near them with his wife and three beautiful children. So it was a big family American Thanksgiving. This diluted the birthday emphasis which made me very happy. A very happy birthday.
The visit, this weekend there, with my sister was, simply stated, a turning point in my life. There have always been some tensions between us. (Even my 101 year old aunt asks me when I see her about it.) Maybe the usual sisterly jealousies/rivalries blossomed into critical distances, making a bridge that seemed hard to cross over. Somehow, without much effort, I changed my attitude. It only takes one person. Really. Even though relationship does take two people, when neither makes a move to make it work better, then nothing can happen. I was always waiting for her. She was supposed to “change” in the way she spoke to me, the way she thought of me. But really, my sister is a good person. We just had many misunderstandings. Communication between us was hard. The past was too much present. We are very different people; we live very different lives, have different needs, preferences, different ways of relating. (Our father, in his late 80's, told me he often wondered how we could be so different.) With this visit I made a conscious decision to see her for herself, not through my expectations and desires, but just who she is. There was one brief period where my usual irritations arose but Tamar reminded me that I didn’t want to do that any more (I had told her beforehand how I wanted to be more open to my sister) and I stopped. Tamar was right. Before going on this trip I had thought I would want to talk to D. about “our relationship” and why it was so difficult. To talk about the threads from the past. About the knots in that thread. But it wasn’t necessary. The weekend had its own rhythms. It was a very warm, pleasant, rewarding Thanksgiving—and a great birthday present.
Before going away last weekend, I had a marathon shipping experience. I needed to retrieve paintings from two galleries in Nova Scotia, neither of them nearby. During class on Monday, I arranged for a courier to take the paintings from a gallery in Annapolis Royal to Truro, where I went on Tuesday to pick them up, along with the paintings that were in the exhibit there at the Marigold Centre. When I brought them home, I had to pack them up. I did some wrapping that night, went to bed exhausted, and my friend Brian came over the next morning (while I was teaching) to start packing them up. When I got home, I helped with the packing and then we loaded the boxes into my car and I drove them to the shipper. The paintings arrived in Switzerland by the following Tuesday. Everything went smoothly.
Meanwhile, my trip to Truro included a walk through beautiful Victoria Park:
and a picture of my perpetual motion puppy in the park:
A few years ago I named a painting Use My Sky. I don’t know where the name came from. It just did. It appeared and it felt right. It wasn’t a blue painting, but that didn’t matter. It was my sky, my vision. As time goes by, my vision changes. At the moment, my sky is open. No boundaries, no rules, no script. Things are changing for me now and I have no idea if I can verbalize anything. I will try.
I am an artist. I paint. I have been teaching, mostly drawing, at the Art College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for the past twenty years. Due to someone’s view (not mine) I am now about to face mandatory retirement. To make room for younger, fresher, less experienced teachers (yes, I’m not happy about it). My students have organized a brigade to argue on my behalf, to express their appreciation of my teaching skills and to try to override a rather archaic/immoral rule. They went to the President, the Vice-President, the Dean of Academic Affairs, and finally, to the Division Chair of the Fine Arts Department. All to no avail, it seems. It feels very good to know that the people who really make a school, the students, care and are willing (and eager) to challenge the rules to keep me teaching.
Yet as of December 15 my life will be uncertain. Several students asked me, in the hall a few days ago, how I felt about it. They all know I would prefer not to stop teaching. I said I have mixed feelings. I am looking forward to more time to paint. I’m looking forward to being able to stay home on cold, snowy, storming days, not having to drive into Halifax in bad weather at seven in the morning. I will miss the students, the fashion shows, the tattoos, their ideas, their projects, their work. I will miss the paycheck. I’m not predicting the weather. I can only hope for more sales. I can only hope for clear skies.