Okay, so it’s New Year’s Eve, a day of endings, thoughts of beginnings. I’ve never been into New Years resolutions very much, but I did keep last year’s—to drink from my good glasses and not wait for company.
Today I’ve been listening to New Year’s Resolutions on CBC, as made over the years. One woman said she’d like to see the emphasis not on the equality of women with men, but the differences between men and women. This was back in the ‘50’s. It led to a lively discussion. One man said he’d like women to be more like women. Another said, face it, women rule the world as it is. A women replied, if they do, it doesn’t show.
I heard, also, Margaret Lawrence, in 1978, say she wanted to spend less time answering letters and more on writing. It turns out she was writing a series of children’s books. She also wished our country hang together. It has, so far.
In 1982, some children were asked for their New Year’s wishes. One wanted her parents should make sister stop picking on her. Another hoped dad would stop working so much. Another hoped mom would not make him eat squash (or another one, broccoli). Others: hope the parents would let her quit piano lessons; stop being so over protective (i.e., let her go downtown alone); that the parents would stop smoking; raise allowance to 50 cents at least; and let him have a stereo.
A 1987 resolution by Ted in Cambridge, Ontario was to save all the junk mail that came to his house. By January 1988 he had a 75 POUND box of JUNK! Remember when we thought computers would eliminate paper?
1990 a fitness gym owner told Peter Gzowski that January is the best month for gyms, the most income from New Year’s resolutions. Gzowski said he was in great shape, didn’t need fitness advice. And laughed, of course.
I heard a couple of days ago that after one week, 75% of resolutions still stand; after six months, only 46% are left. If I were to make a resolution this year, it would be to tame the paper tiger that stalks my house: those piles and piles of paper I don’t know what to do with, have trouble sorting and tossing so just put aside for a “better” time. But I’m just not sure I’m up to it, yet.
and the lake is freezing.
Just think, in the summer I swim out to that rock.
My winter garden:
Today is Tamar’s birthday. Forty-six. (Aaron’s is January 3. He’ll be forty.) Where did all the years go! Tamar and her boys have plans to go to see the Big Apple Circus today. I hope they are not having the storm in New York we have now.
I remember well the day she was born. There was snow on the ground. We were living in Washington, D.C. And I was so afraid it was going to be false labor. It wasn’t. I was lucky. Labor was short, six hours. For a first baby, that’s good. But for a first baby, I was frightened. In those days the woman in labor was put in a room alone. Every now and then a nurse would come by and pat my arm. My then-husband was in the waiting room reading the Life of Sigmund Freud. I was only in the hospital three hours before she was born, but I think the first two were the longest hours in my life. The actual delivery was blissful. As was seeing a perfect, beautiful dark haired baby girl.
Life as mother and daughter has had its natural bumps but by now we know each other better and make accommodations for our differences and that’s good. As I’ve said before, I don’t mind getting older. In fact, I rather like it. I just don’t like my children getting older. I suppose it is too much of a reminder that at some point we really won’t be together. We are together now and I value that, for sure.
Happy birthday, kid! May your years be filled with awe and wonder.
We had yet another snowstorm yesterday. As I was driving home from Halifax (after taking Lila for acupuncture and then going for some myself--different doctors!) the sky was giving us a steady rain of ice pellets. Driving was safe but slow. This morning I awoke to a layer of soft snow over everything, including the ice underneath. It was a perfect day to stay home and enjoy the winter weather.
There's a brook running beside my property. I can hear it year round, even in winter. Lila's friend Lucky came out to visit with her mom, Suzanne. We had lunch, Suzanne and I; the dogs played outside on my field aand then we all went for a walk by the brook. It was too icy to walk far, but it was very beautiful.
Lila loves everything about the snow, playing in it, running in it, and eating it. And I love taking her picture:
My friend Jody gave me a small sketchbook, hand sewn with Japanese binding, for a Christmas present. On the cover was some small typed out writing. (I don’t know where it comes from and will investigate, but until then,) this is what it said:
It is Art that makes life, that makes Importance. I know of no substitute for the force and beauty of its Power… Art is the only way to run away without leaving home. ARS LONGA, VITA BREVES… You know you have achieved perfection in design * not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away… Every great work of art has two faces, one toward its own time and one towards the future, toward eternity… WHAT IS ART BUT A WAY OF SEEING?... I don’t want life to imitate art. I want life to be art… Sculpture and painting have the effect of teaching us manners and abolishing hurry… each of the arts whose office is to refine, purify, adorn, embellish and grace life is under the patronage of a muse, no god being found worthy to preside over them… Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life… THE ARTIST’S VOCATION IS TO SEND LIGHT INTO THE HUMAN HEART… Art is the signature of civilization … . . .
I wish I’d said that!
I heard on the radio a few days ago (I don’t remember the show but it must have been in the morning because I was painting in my studio and of course, it was on CBC) a discussion of what makes a good, lasting novel. The consensus was twofold: a story needs to have ambiguity and needs to be beyond nostalgia.
Ambiguity invites you to read and reread, telling you new things with every reading. Gives the sense of mystery that is life, the constant unfolding of news, surprises, deepening of understanding, new points of view.
To be beyond nostalgia gives you that universal quality, where anyone, anywhere, from any background, knowing different experiences, can relate to what is happening. Nostalgia, sentiment are limiting.
These same qualities are necessary for great art in any format: music, literature, theatre or any of the visual arts. This thought reminds me once again of the idea that there are two ways to make art. The first is to start with a universal theme, idea, and make it personal. The second, to start with the personal and make it universal. Art needs to transcend the personal in order to be great, to be read again and again, to be looked at over and over, to reveal its secrets over time but never completely, for there always to be more. And more. To be beyond.
It’s good to be inside on a cold winter day.
Lila and I went out for an exceptionally early walk yesterday morning. Before the sun was up very high. It was quiet and sweet. Not too cold for a change. And the snow and ice are melting fast with the warmer air. Most of the houses were dark. But then a few were intensely lit inside, with Christmas lights bright. I could imagine the young children rushing to the tree to open their presents. One of the houses up the road has a full compliment of children. They have their two, then they adopted two Chinese and two African children. I call it the United Nations. I don’t know them well but it seems all the children are adjusting well. Their house was the brightest on the road this morning.
We had a tree when I was young. We called it a Chanukah bush. I did love it. Decorating it and all the presents underneath. There weren’t as many presents then as children get now because it was the War and Post-War Years. I remember getting shirts and socks and practical things and maybe some homemade dresses for my dolls. But my uncle gave me a Kodak box camera when I was nine and I loved taking pictures of my dolls with it. We were the only Jewish family in the neighborhood, my parents wanted us to fit in, assimilate. We actually made Easter Eggs and baskets but also lit Chanukah candles and celebrated Passover. So my becoming Buddhist is not much of a leap. I just like ritual wherever it is served up.
When my own children were young, I remember decorating a small potted Norfolk pine tree I had then. I think the tree died just before my marriage did. I don't remember much else about Christmas trees with my children except that I did enjoy collecting ornaments and so enjoy giving them to my children for their trees, when they have them.
Later in the day yesterday, Lila and I went to the Park for a walk. The paths were still somewhat icy so all the dogs were off lead, even on the main paths where it is usually illegal. It was like a picnic, a very happy romp. It was better than going to a Chinese Restaurant!
Then in the evening Lila and I went to some friends’ home for dinner. It was a feast. Lavish, lots of laughter. It’s that time of year. They had one of the prettiest trees I've ever seen. It was lit with small white lights and silver and clear bulbs. No other color. Very elegant.
I miss my family, my own children, but it’s been good, staying home. So today I am enjoying the sunshine on the remaining snow and hoping the next storm is not tomorrow
In my particular Buddhist community, a (relatively) new seasonal celebration has become established. I believe it is about twenty-five, thirty years now. The celebration is for children, Children’s Day, to be on the Winter Solstice. On 14 December 1954, the General Assembly recommended that all countries institute a Universal Children's Day. Some countries do, I've heard of it in November in India and in March in New Zealand. December 21 is the date chosen by the Shambhala community.
It’s hard to start a new tradition amongst a large group of people. In a family, or in a small group, traditions happen naturally. For us, with my dad and stepmother, we went to a movie as a group, whoever was visiting on any holiday, Thanksgiving, Christmas (she was Christian). Before that, when my mother was alive, it was going to synagogue to kiss my grandmother on the High Holidays.
This particular “tradition”, Children's Day, always seemed to me to be forced, imposed. A way of NOT celebrating other religious traditions that happen at this time—Christmas, Chanukah. But to be honest, I never went to any of the celebrations around this event. Usually I am with my grown children at this time of year, or else I’m on retreat. But this year, after so much travel and with my children coming here for my birthday just a month ago, I needed to stay home, if only for a few months. So this is a new (and strange) feeling, to be home for the holidays.
Last Saturday evening I went to my first Children's Day. I actually enjoyed it, felt the value of it. It not only fills a need to have a holiday at this time of year but to be celebrating children, well, that’s a very good idea. Without them, we have no future, no life, nothing to look forward to. And with the beginning of the days becoming longer, the night receding, a good time to tell the children they bring light into our lives.
The ceremony consisted of a procession, including a “king” and “queen” and the dancers representing the Four Dignities of Shambhala: tiger, lion, garuda and dragon. The Shambhala teachings introduce these four mythical animals to represent the principles of confidence that a person develops in order to bring wisdom and compassion into daily life, qualities that allow us to play in the blessing and magic of our lives.
Tiger represents contentment. The joy of the lion arises from discipline. The outrageous garuda, a mythical bird, has a mind of accommodating equanimity. The dragon possesses deep wisdom based on knowing how things are.
Each of the dignities was represented by a teenage dancer to whom, after their dance, the children in the audience made appropriate offering. Then the children were given a blessing by the “king” and “queen” and, of course, a treat. We then all convened for a pot-luck dinner. I went home feeling very blessed. To have been a part of this tradition was very special.
are predicting rain for tomorrow and above freezing temperatures all week. A big change from the -10 to -20 C. temps we have been having for the last few weeks. And the plentiful snowstorms as well. But today was warm and sunny. Perfect winter weather. A pleasure.
Meanwhile Lila is outside barking at the full moon. I can hear the echo across the lake.
A Buddhist teacher, the Vajra Regent, Osel Tendzin, once asked me what I wanted from my meditation practice. I told him I wanted to be happy. He shook his head, said (more or less) happiness is ephemeral. Contentment is a more stable (noble) goal and perhaps I had already achieved some of that. I don’t think I had then but more so now.
Yet, I’ll still take some happy!
Speaking of books, I neglected to post a list of books I read last year. Probably because I was so hung up on Ulysses. I had taken up the Ulysses Challenge put forward by Jian Ghomeshi (on Sounds Like Canada in the Summer), loved the writing, loved the beautiful use of language, loved reading it, but probably only understood about 1% of it so stopped around page 300. It has the distinction of being the first book I hadn’t finished in manymanymany years. But the challenge still lingers and perhaps (perhaps) I will take it up again.
Meanwhile, what I did read over the past two years:
Yo! By Julia Alvarez: I enjoyed reading this adventuresome story.
How to Speak Dog by Stanley Coren: I’m still learning. I do (obviously) love his books on dogs. The first one I read, How Dogs Think, is probably what pushed me over the edge to get another dog after being dogless for five years.
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson: A little too melodramatic for me although not a bad story. I read this while my house was under unexpected renovations in the spring of 2006. So it was a good distraction.
Short Stories by O’Henry: I know he’s supposed to be a great short story writer, but I just couldn’t get into these stories. The characters didn’t interest me very much. Their lives never touched mine. I am proud to say I didn’t finish the book.
Bacombo Snuff Box by Kurt Vonnegut: These short stories seemed formulaic. People were good and bad, very predictable. And I found the satire and sarcasm unappealing.
A Ulysses Primer. I’m embarrassed to say I don’t remember the author and can’t find the book right now. I didn’t have the patience when reading UlyssesUlysses again.
Sympathy by Dede Crane: It’s always difficult to write about what goes on in a psychotherapeutic situation. Most of this novel takes place in a mental hospital. Sometimes the insights were interesting, but overall, I might have liked it better in another setting.
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi: This was fascinating reading, interesting peek into a difficult time in the history of Iran. But the writing became labored, as if she, as a teacher of literature, was trying too hard to be literary.
Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac: Actually this was a rather enjoyable read, a good relief from Ullysses. A glimpse into an important period in the evolution of personal growth, so to speak.
A Good Dog by Jon Katz: I talked about this in my blog so I won’t say more than it is a very very beautiful story of a man and a dog. If you like dogs, Jon Katz’ writing is the best, very sincere.
The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald: I actually put this book down a third of the way through. It just didn’t interest me.
The Blue Sky by Galsan Tschinag, the sad story of a young boy’s life in a Mongolian nomadic tribe.
The Bookseller of Kabul, by Asne Seierstad. Interesting reading, for sure. A fascinating, detailed portrait of a family and a country.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss. As has been said many times, who would have thought a book on punctuation could be so much fun to read! I’ve always loved punctuation. For me it’s a literary form of mathematics.
American Pastoral by Philip Roth: Never thought I would enjoy a book based on a political situation so much. I do love his writing. It is so thorough. I was fascinated by the way he slips around in time and still keeps the storyline moving.
House of Sand and Fog Andre Dubois III: The book went from okay to not so great. In fact, I was left feeling like it was a waste of time. Too dark without any feeling of growth or resolution.
Three by Margaret Lawrence: Stone Angel, House of Fire, The Fire-Dwellers. I enjoyed them. Except for House of Fire, where I would have loved to be her editor. I’d never read Margaret Lawrence before going to see Stone Angel at the Halifax Film Festival in September. I enjoyed the novel so much more than the movie. But then there is only one movie I enjoyed more than the book and that was The Hour.
Short Stories by Willa Cather and Still Life by A.S. Byatt. Ann lent me these books as I was leaving Rome. She promised to come get them next summer. The Willa Cather stories were perfect, especially her later ones. Still Life, I would have enjoyed editing a bit. The story was interesting, about a family in England, especially the two sisters, struggling with their intelligence and women’s issues. There was a lot of philosophizing about life and literature and also quotes from Van Gogh’s letters that were helpful to understanding his process.
And of course, Miles Davis’ Autobiography which I am currently enjoying so very much. I’m sure I left out a few but this will do for now.
I’ve been reading Miles by Miles Davis and Quincy Troupe. It’s one of those books I could stay up all night reading. Written as he told it to Quincy Troupe, the language is quite colorful, that jive language where “bad” is “good” and a “sh*t m*therf*cker” is the best. (The ***’s are here to avoid the G**gle tentacles!) He is very direct, honest, and more or less open about his life, his loves, and especially his music.
I love jazz and Miles Davis is one of my very favorites. When I was in art school, a friend introduced me to his music. Over the years I’ve listened to him more than anyone else. Once, in New York, a friend (who also played jazz at the time) took me to the luncheonette on Broadway In the 70’s where Miles often ate. Unfortunately he didn’t come in that day.
I’m only up to 1952, about a third of the way through the book. So far I’ve learned more about him than I expected. He lived for his music. In his early years, music was almost all he thought about. By age fifteen he was playing with other great musicians. His father was a dentist and very supportive of Miles. When Miles decided to quit Juilliard, he didn’t just call his father; he went home to East St. Louis to tell him in person. His father understood and continued to send him money so he could pursue his dream.
The years I am reading about now, 1950, 51, 52 were hard years for Miles. He was into drugs and finding it hard to stop. I know he did stop (only did it for four years) and am waiting to see how. Basically he was a very good person, helping other musicians whenever he could, no matter what color skin, caring only about their music. In the years I’ve been reading about, he is looking for his own voice. He knows it won’t be fast like Charlie Bird Parker or Dizzy Gillespie. His own slow, languid pace is what made his music unique.
Reading about his one-pointed passion for his music is inspiring. Jazz is a collaborative art form. So much of Mile’s story involves who he plays with, learns from, talks to. When he wasn't playing music, he would go from club to club to hear music and then talk all night to friends about the music. I couldn’t help comparing it to painting, a very solitary art form. But it too needs that kind of obsessive energy to find the right voice, the expression of a personal vision.
I’ve been trying to learn how to play jazz piano, taking lessons recently with Skip Beckwith now and again. It’s hard. After so many years of playing classical music, just reading the music and playing, this is so different. It’s a different way of thinking about music. I know I’ll never be a great jazz musician. But I do love jazz and am determined to learn how to play some, in my own way. It helps to read about Miles Davis and his thorough immersion in a life of music. If even a tiny bit rubs off on me, I’d be happy.
With all this snow we have been having, and then rain, then snow and cold, there is a lot of ice around. Brian came over this morning to help put sand on my driveway. Driving around here is hard, treacherous. My long steep driveway is thick ice from top to bottom. Yesterday morning I skidded up in my car and then in the evening skidded down it. The kids in the neighborhood have been using it to slide down while waiting for the bus in the morning. Today there was no problem maneuvering on it; the sand really helped.
There is still ice on my deck:
Of course, Lila loves the snow:
The sun on the bushes by the lake this morning:
and on the lake (now mostly frozen, but not enough to walk on yet):
Today is the fourth anniversary of my blog. My first entry was December 18, 2003. My daughter, Tamar, had been keeping an on-line journal and then a blog for years. I had admired her writing and enjoying seeing aspects of her life not offered through our emails and phone calls.
So on my holiday visit to Sunny LA, Tamar helped me set up this up. At first it did feel strange, I admit. I was oh so aware of every word I posted. Then I began to relax a bit and enjoy the process, the communication with a broader world than I would every have imagined possible.
So many good things have happened because of my blog. My exhibit in Denmark last June was directly a result of my blog. I met Elin Neumann when she googled how to rid her garden of deer and found my recipe posted on my blog. We corresponded and she introduced me to the Galleri Saltum where I exhibited. I also spent a lovely few days visiting with her in Denmark.
I sold a photo to St. Paul Science Museum through my blog. It was posted with the title “Mist” and is going to be used in an exhibit about water, how it is transformed in its life cycle. The exhibit will travel and I hope to see it eventually at the Natural History Museum in New York City.
I must admit, when Tamar stopped her blog just over a year ago, I found it hard to write. Maybe I need to feel I am writing to someone. Like a letter. And she was my mental audience. But, on a broader view, a blog is not just a conversation but also a record of a life. What I do, what I think, what I expect. Often thoughts get written I had no idea were roaming around in my mind. Sometimes it feels like a way to taste the flavors of my experiences, to put a meal together for whoever might come to the table.
Who do I write for? Who reads blogs? I only know one friend of mine here in Halifax who reads my blog. Most of the people I mentioned it to when I first started laughed. Now they either have a blank expression or realize that blogs are so omnipresent, it is no big deal. Everyone (almost) blogs, politicians, radio programs, writers, actors, but it seems not too many of my friends.
Over the past year I did think about not writing. I let many moments slip by that now I would like to have captured in print. I know I would miss this part of my world so I am making a renewed effort. Mostly, I would miss the so many interesting people I “meet” here.
After trying via several friends to get the video clip of my TV interview in Denmark last June edited and reformatted for North American use, I finally took it to a professional digital copy shop. A friend was then able to post it for me. So now it is up on my website! (It's under Media on the top bar.)
The questions the interviewer asked me were, first, what inspires me and second, do I having a problem letting go of the work once it is done. Now, because I have been painting for so long, feel more confidant in being able to paint a good painting, one that satisfies my intentions, I not only have no problem seeing a painting go off to a new home, I am eager to empty my studio as often as possible. But there was a time, when I first started painting, when it was much harder to let go. At that time if I did a few good paintings a year, maybe three or four, they felt more precious. I didn’t know if another one would follow.
This morning I went into my studio and planned to prepare canvases to work on, to put down the collage materials. I bought a large number of small stretched canvases when they were on sale recently so I have a lot of work to do to make them ready to receive paint. But it was hard not to pick up an oil bar and start working. (I must admit, one painting insisted I work, just a little, on it.) So my mind is churning for tomorrow’s studio time. And my studio is filling up again.
I love winter here. It is so very beautiful. And interesting. It doesn’t always snow, but when it does, it leaves a delicate white blanket over everything. It feels fresh. It feels good to bundle up and walk in the snow. Listening to the crunch of my boots as the snow surrenders to my feet.
Winter pleasures are plentiful. Walking on the lake. Throwing the ball for Lila on the lake. Cross-country skiing on the lake. Last year the lake was frozen for six weeks. When the weather warmed up we all missed the ice. It had been a neighborhood playground on weekends. The kids built forts on the islands. Had picnics out there in the middle of the lake. When the sun shines, there is nothing more heartening than feeling the warm radiation in the crisp air.
Yet this year, right now, I am ready to pack it all in and never go outside again! I’ve had enough! It’s cold. It’s dark. It’s unpredictable. We are in the beginnings of a big storm later today, a deluge, a pounding. Maybe 20 – 25 cm of snow. It’s ten degrees below freezing (centigrade) right now. The saying goes: big flakes, little snow; little flakes, big snow. There is a curtain of fine, delicate snow coming down as I write, promising lots of snow with high winds coming to visit later. The weather report says it will snow and then turn to rain tonight and be 10 degrees above freezing tomorrow. Friday night I was invited to dinner and a concert in Halifax. I really did want to go. I got in my car, drove the equivalent of two blocks, turned around and came home. The precipitation was a mixture of snow and rain. It didn’t feel welcoming. Last night there was a party in the neighborhood and I just stayed home.
It’s nice inside now. I think it’s time to either hibernate or migrate! I'm not the only one feeling this way so early in the winter season. A friend just called and said she wants to go south during mid-winter break at NSCAD. Would I join her on a trip to Washington, D.C. (where I grew up; we hardly ever had snow there), go to galleries and museums, see some art. I never thought Washington would be a southern destination but relative to here, it definitely is appealing. But it's more likely I would go to New Jersey to visit Tamar and Ottawa (even colder than here!) to visit Aaron. Who knows. Maybe it will even warm up in January. But at this point we are definitely headed for a white holiday season!
Jackie's comment on yesterday's post inspired me to put up a photo of Lila all “made-up”.
and one from our walk in the woods:
These pix were taken just three weeks ago, before the endless snows we’ve been having. (As we are told to prepare for another major storm Sunday, winter is suggesting it is going to be a long and hard one. It's too much too soon. We don't usually have this much winter in December.)
The last photo is when her friend Minnie (another Portie) came over to play. The only good shot was of their running around the field.
Portuguese Water Dogs are often called the clowns of dogs. They are lively, fun, playful, extremely intelligent, fun to train (in fact, Lila demands training, is visibly and audibly upset if we miss it) and very agile. Lila loves to get her front paws up on a stool and twirl around. When she sees the stool she gets all exited and wiggly. I have heard Porties have been known to climb ropes. I have also heard that if you can survive the first two years, you will have a great dog. I can confirm that!
Yesterday I went for an acupuncture treatment. Dr. Robin Wu and his wife Jenny moved here from Taiwan about a year ago. He’s working on his English. But sometimes I have trouble understanding him. And he, me. Jenny's English is a fair bit better; she took a three month immersion course in Arizona before moving here.
Yesterday Jenny was recommending I go see the movie Milarepa. It was here for only a week. Apparently it’s very inspiring. I said I couldn’t; I had to go to a dog make-up class. (It had been canceled once because of a snowstorm.) They smiled. And then I realized they thought I was saying I was going to a class to learn how to put make-up on my dog’s face.
I laughed so hard Dr. Wu could put the needles in without my even feeling it!
I went to a play Saturday night. (I won’t mention the name because I found it didn’t satisfy. No point.) It was neither here nor there, neither comedy nor serious. The one-person skit started out with energetic farcical energy, very funny. It went on too long in that vein but wasn’t funny any more. Then it became heavy, ponderous and ended flat. The friend I went with said afterwards she can suspend belief in the theatre but not in the movies. She was willing to give it more respect than I did. I almost fell asleep in the middle.
So what does it take to make you suspend belief? I can get totally involved in movies, books, TV shows, plays. Often when I am with someone watching TV and am getting visibly upset by a story, by the way people are acting or things that are happening to them, the person with me will say: Leya, it is only TV! Sometimes I don’t answer the phone when I am involved in a show. At least in a movie it’s dark and my reactions are more my secret.
Books are another story. Sometimes I get so involved in what is happening, I must read it, even if it keeps me up most of the night. Other times I find I have to put it down before I get to that point just because it is so overwhelming. Then, sometimes, I just can’t relate to the story or the characters; it puts me to sleep. With a book, at least, there’s the option of putting it down. Walking out of a theatre is more dramatic.
Last year was the first time I can remember when I actually didn’t finish reading a novel once I had started it. It was liberating. To admit a book just wasn’t for me. So maybe I will walk out of a theatre production—someday, maybe.
Winter has set in early here. My driveway has been plowed three times already and it's not even mid-December! The driving is hard, walking harder, but it is so very beautiful. The lake is slowly freezing over and summer is buried under snow.
My friend Sean Kennedy, the one who taught the Irish Studies course at the Halifax Library the past few months, has been talking about the unthought known: what we know without thinking, what is inherently known, intuition perhaps. He mentioned, after seeing my new work recently, that “perhaps the unthought known is that which knows us; are we thinking or being thought? Painted or painting?”
So often I feel I am being painted. The work dictates to me what it wants, how it wants to proceed. I respect my training, yet the exciting part is when I just go along for the ride. I enjoy the struggle as well, those times when the work does not come together easily. I enjoy the challenge. But there is nothing like the experience of being involved with a painting that seems to paint itself.
It does take stepping out, being willing to climb the tree to the top, step out on a limb, leap to the next tree. Even if it doesn’t work at first (or even eventually), if I make poor decisions, it’s worth the trip.
As a birthday gift, a few friends got together and gave me a facial. What a luxurious gift, I must say! It was lovely, being pampered for an hour, coming out with my face feeling like velvet, and my body like a marshmallow. When it was finished, I asked the esthetician how often she recommended having this done. She said every four weeks. I said Four Weeks! If I made it in four years I would feel fortunate. But apparently some people do. I wonder if it is covered under MSI, as health assurance.
Then I looked up the number “four” in Wikipedia. Among many many other things, many of them being mathematical, it said: “Four is the only number in the English language for which the number of letters in its name is equal to the number itself. This is also true in several other languages.” Interesting. A very sturdy number.
I don’t believe in closure. I think emotions are a bottomless well. Just when you/I think there is resolution/conclusion to an event/a situation/an emotional state, something arises, appears that can set off an entirely new set of feelings. Something more to look at, to ponder, to work through. For me, there is no such thing as closure.
On Sounds Like Canada Wednesday morning, the topic was caring for your elderly and/or ailing parents. A woman was talking about caring for her ex-husband. She had long before come to peace about the divorce so it was not a working on the past, she said. But it was, she also said, some kind of closure. And I could hear the question in her voice around the word closure. She knew, it seemed to me, that there could always be more.
I don’t know if I could or would take care of my ex-husband. It’s not a possibility at this point. He lives in NYC and we don’t have much communication. We didn’t have an easy separation. Lots of unpleasant feelings for a long time afterward. I did see him a year or so ago. It was interesting, pleasant enough. No real problem. No big aftermath. Just a visit.
After my mother died, it took me ten years before I stopped having shocking dreams about her, dreams that woke me shaking from an image of her still alive but inevitably dying. It was many years after that before I could think about her without some kind of lingering childhood emotion. I’m not sure I can even now but at least I am not acting on it (as often). And I think that is more important than closure.
I'd like to believe, like Plato, in absolute beauty, absolute truth, but I'm constantly reminded that it's only a concept. It just doesn't work that way. The other day a friend came into my studio and saw a painting I was working on—and saw it very differently than I had. It was going to be a triptych—three panels, the middle one being five feet by three feet, the two end ones, five feet by two feet. I had been trying to have the five by two panel exist as a single painting but that shape does not feel right to me. So I was making it a part of the other two panels. My friend saw the newer panels as one and the original five by two as a separate painting. I took another look and agreed: it looked right as a diptych. Later I continued to work on the newer panels and now the piece has come together as a triptych. But the thought of a diptych in that particular pattern lingers as a future possibility. Because someone else saw it for me.
A few years ago I was asked if I would sell a triptych (a Naples yellow painting I really loved) but the buyer wanted the first five by two panel turned on its side to put over the coffee table and the middle five by three panel to be beside the couch (or vice versa—I don’t really care to remember). That would leave one panel lonely. I said no. That painting is now back in my studio, all three pieces.
The recent exhibition of my paintings in Switzerland looked good. Evelyne’s sculpture in the gallery worked well in the space with my paintings. It all looked very elegant. This has been a very fruitful relationship. Evelyne is a superb gallery owner, honest, forthright, good with sales, a excellent business woman. I have great respect for her.
I did, however, want the five panel piece to have each panel touching the one next to it. It makes the painting much stronger—with the pieces being more intimate, being able to talk to each other. That is the way it was conceived. I couldn’t convince Eveyne to hang it the way I would have preferred. I had sent her a photograph, I wrote, I wrote again and when I got there, she had hung it with about an inch between each panel. It didn’t look bad but it wasn’t the same. What it did, in my mind, was make the piece more decorative. And that is not how I feel about my work.
When I came home I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Felt indignant, not in control. I decided to write her and state my needs (again) regarding my work. Yet once I realized I could tell her that as much as I appreciated all she did for me, and it is a lot, I need to have my wishes regarding my work respected, then, at that point, I stopped thinking about it. Just let it go. In the greater scheme of things, it just isn’t that important. She has her way of seeing my work, I have mine. I cannot control how people see.
I just finished reading Still Life by A.S. Byatt. She writes: “We all remake the world as we see it. . . We always put something of ourselves—however passive we are as observers, however we believe in the impersonality of the poet, into our descriptions of our world, our mapping of our vision.” I can only offer you my vision and hope, as well, to see what you see.
Yesterday standing around in Seaview Park on the cold frozen snow talking to a couple of other dog owners while our pups romped around, we saw a navy ship coming into the Halifax Harbour. It seemed all the passengers were standing on the deck eager to pull into the dock. It was very tender sight. The two other people said they were carrying the sailors home for Christmas. The servicemen knew they’d be leaving again soon, they said, going back to the war zone. But then, one person said, they knew when they signed up that’s the way it would be.
I very proudly told them my daughter has a Support Peace ribbon on her car (I think it’s a purple one). Both the other (freezing) dog owners seemed unimpressed. Assumed, it seemed, that we all support peace so why say it.
But from what I have heard on the radio, those servicemen and women who signed up thought they were going on a peacekeeping mission. Not going to war. They support peace.
How many reminders does it take?
It looks like I’m actually not too old to teach! I’ve been asked to teach again in the winter semester at the Art College (NSCAD University in Halifax). I guess they realized something (some one) was missing. When I received the contract in the mail I was in shock. I had been asked if I was available (first all the regular part time people had to have their course loads filled before they could give me a class) but then a month or two went by with no further word. So I put it out of my mind.
I must admit, it feels strange. There have been big changes around the school—new buildings, renovations, new students. And there have been big changes in me. After a year of not having a schedule, not having to be anywhere I didn’t plan myself, having all day to paint, day after day, I’ve come into a feeling of spaciousness about life and mind I never knew before. It will be interesting how this carries over into the classroom. I will be teaching my favorite subject, figure drawing. I’m a little nervous, excited and looking forward to being back in the classroom.
I have something I really need to say, something I’ve been mulling over for a few years, possible a lifetime, my lifetime, that is. It’s about my life time. It’s this: I think people, in my experience, are afraid of age, of aging, of being around older people. Yet . . . getting older, it will happen to everyone, to you too—if you are lucky.
I almost titled this post I Dare You: I Dare You to Read This to the End. But I do understand. I really do. When I was very young I too felt that way: older people were an enigma, frightening, boring. All of those things, all at once. Only my peers interested me. I didn’t like the questions older people asked me. I thought they were annoying, wasting my time; I had more important things to think about. If I look back on it, it was really only me who interested me. Other people, and especially people my age or younger, were a mirror for me, reflecting myself back to me. As examples of how to be or examples of how they saw me. Probably the best thing for me about growing older is becoming more interested in other people and the big world outside of me and my life. And this is because I feel more comfortable with myself. After all those years of searching for “something” outside myself, searching to find success, a man, friends, things, I found all that I needed by not searching. And this has come with age. Seasoning.
What’s it like to be “old” (or older)? When I’m out there shoveling snow and the wind is blowing, I wonder . . . when I carry the garbage up my long driveway to the curb, I wonder. . . When I’m with friends dancing, I wonder. . . I wonder how long I will be able to do this. When I go to bed early, I wonder because this is something I’ve always liked to do. I’ve never liked to sleep late into the mornings. I like to sleep in the nude. I still walk through the woods on rocky paths (and forget to bring my cell phone). I won’t wear loud patterns near my face anymore, but I definitely want to dress well. I used to have a phenomenal memory. Now it is not so great; names, especially, slip away and it is very frustrating. I still get up on ladders and take screens down myself. But I do hold onto railings when taking stairs. I still carry my heavy canvases around. I still work with obsessive energy. I haven’t lost the lust for life. I haven’t lost desire.
There definitely are changes. I am more settled in myself; I enjoy my life more; I worry less; I enjoy other people more, even older people, and especially younger (very young) ones. I could still dance all night if I had a partner. I could even make love all night. I just haven’t met the right person yet. Sadly there are fewer people to meet at this age. Yet I enjoy my life even when those things are not available. The best thing for me about aging is an ease that has come into my life.
Even my friends have a hard time relating to age. I was talking to a (fifty-nine year old) friend who also saw the Beckett plays. She thought The Mouth was possibly talking too fast for an older woman. I was surprised. The Mouth was seventy! I just turned seventy! I might not run or walk fast anymore, but I can talk fast if I need to. There definitely are physical changes. I may have trouble with the fine print but I can see better in the distance than I did. I do have some aches and need to take care not to move in inappropriate ways, to exercise properly every day. But I was told when I was seventeen to do specific exercises or I would have trouble later. I ignored the advice because I was young and invulnerable, or so I thought.
Once I gave an assignment at the Art College for the students to do a drawing inspired by a poem. I gave them three to choose from. I thought they were very graphic. One in particular, a Garcia Lorca poem which began “If I die, throw the windows open. . . “ It’s not “if” but “when”, something we inevitably all do. To me, the poem embraced life by acknowledging death. To the students, it was morbid and they had trouble relating. They were in a different stage of their lives—they were in the accumulating, acquiring and inquiring stage. They possibly hadn’t met death intimately yet. It’s hard to look directly at the thought that life will end for each of us. After the experience with the poems, I let my students choose their text. That worked well and I learned what interested them.
Last year when I posted by first entry on Holidailies, I had the usual flurry of readers. But after that, hardly any. My first post was about being forced to retire from teaching. Mandatory retirement. Too old to teach. That makes me boring to anyone not facing “old age”, right? I was a good teacher but I must say, I learned more from my students than they learned from me. Besides the latest in fashion and music and art, I learned how to listen, to appreciate differences, to help others. I’m not too old to teach. I’m not too old to learn.
There is humor in aging, especially when it comes from a legendary person. This “song” was sent to me by my cousin’s daughter.
To commemorate her 69th birthday on October 1, actress/vocalist, Julie Andrews made a special appearance at Manhattan's Radio City Music Hall for the benefit of the AARP. One of the musical numbers she performed was 'My Favorite Things' from the legendary movie 'Sound Of Music. Here are the actual lyrics she used:
Maalox and nose drops and needles for knitting,
Walkers and handrails and new dental fittings,
Bundles of magazines tied up in string,
These are a few of my favorite things.
Cadillacs and cataracts, and hearing aids and glasses,
Polident and Fixodent and false teeth and glasses,
Pacemakers, golf carts and porches with swings,
These are a few of my favorite things.
When the pipes leak,
When the bones creak,
When the knees go bad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I don't feel so bad.
Hot tea and crumpets and corn pads for bunions,
No spicy hot food or food cooked with onions,
Bathrobes and heating pads and hot meals they bring,
These are a few of my favorite things.
Back pains, confused brains, and no need for sinnin',
Weak bones and fractures and hair that is thinnin',
And we won't mention our short, shrunken frames,
Remembering our favorite things but not our names.
When the joints ache,
When the hips break,
When the eyes grow dim,
Then I remember the great life I've had,
And then I don't feel so bad!
*(Ms. Andrews received a standing ovation from the crowd that lasted over four minutes and repeated encores.) Please share Ms. Andrews' clever wit and humor with others who would appreciate it.
Yes, I'm old. And proud of it.
I traveled from Rome to Zurich by train, with a day and a half stop in Venice. I love traveling by train, seeing the terrain change from round to hilly to flat to the mountainous Alps. But by the time I arrived in Zurich, I was very shaky from so much travel, so many new sights.
This was my third exhibition at the Halde Galerie. This particular show was to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the gallery. My paintings were on the walls and the sculpture is by Evelyne Brader, the owner of the gallery. I was honored to be a part of this exhibition. The opening reception-party-celebration was the first night I was there and was enjoyable. The Canadian Consul came, talked a bit with me, gave a little speech. He’s from Quebec. Lots of other people talked to me as well. Usually they don’t bother because I don’t speak German. So it was nice. The party lasted way into the night.
The next day I met a friend of Ann’s for lunch in a Japanese restaurant where the food goes around on a dolly and you take off the plates that appeal. The food was great. Ann’s friend plays violin in the Zurich opera orchestra. I could have gone to see The Marriage of Figuro but I was just too tired to work out the logistics and of course, regret that decision now.
Before and after lunch I walked the charming streets of the old town part of Zurich. I also went into the Kunsthaus, the art museum and saw their permanent collection. My memories of it are better than the current show but it was, nevertheless beautiful.
On the way home, I took the wrong train and ended up far away, had to retrace my tracks, literally. I took an early morning flight on Monday and was/am happy to be home, painting again, filling up my studio, And using a Western English keyboard!
So that’s my trip! I expect I will be staying home for at least a couple of months. Then . . . who knows!
After a very wonderful, stimulating, exiting, rewarding week in Rome, I finally tore myself away and traveled on (by train) to Venice. The city is beautiful, of course. But so confusing. I walked in circles for hours it seemed. It took me an hour and a half to find my way back to the B&B when it should have taken ten minutes! The shopkeepers are so tired of people asking how to get somewhere they don’t answer questions usually. Just wave you away. Next time I go to Venice I will bring a compass and a friend to talk to when I get lost. A couple of people were helpful, but not many.
The view from my B&B in the early morning light:
and the canal at dusk, my first evening there:
On my full day in Venice, I went to San Marco, into the chapel, up the bell tower to view all of Venice in panorama, around the canals, to many churches to see Tintorettos, Berninis, Titians, and other masterpieces. Also the Jewish ghetto. Might as well see my roots in Europe! Now I’ve been to the ghetto in Rome and in Venice. My big purchase was a pair of Italian boots. They will be very handy here in Nova Scotia. It's snowing already. And cold. Makes we want to go back to Rome.
Most of the streets are so narrow you have to turn sideways to pass. And laundry hanging out to dry was a common sight. A traditional vote for ecological sanity.
After so much walking I was ready to get on the train the next morning and go on to Zurich for the exhibition of my paintings.
To continue my recent trip to Italy and Switzerland, here are a few more pix. . . . The beggars in Rome are very creative. Dressing up to look like statues, as the Pope, as cameramen. When someone proffered coins in their cups, they would bow or turn the camera or some other movement to show their appreciation. What impressed me was how long they could stand still, waiting. That in itself, must generate a meditative state. Impressive.
I don't have a happy history with beggars. Once, in New York, a young woman stopped me on the street and told me the most elaborate sad story. She took my heart. And my money. She told me her eighteen month old daughter (the same age Tamar was at that time) was desperately in need of heart surgery or she would die and she, the mom, needed money for medications. I went with her back to my loft on 11th Street and gave her the last $20 I had in my pocket, my food money for the rest of the week. She later bugged the owners of the building who had a factory on the top floor. I was forever embarrassed and look at beggars only with a fair distance between us.
The fountains of Rome are also a memorable sight:
I went to see a couple of Samuel Beckett plays last night: Not I and Krapp’s Last Tape, with Janice Jackson and Timothy Leary. The production was very good, well acted, fascinating. I used to go to as many Beckett plays as I could when I lived in New York and I’ve read a few of his novels. I’m attracted to his stark, challenging, unsettling writings. So it was exciting for me to see Becket being performed in Halifax. Word had gotten out and the theatre was full.
I loved the experience of sitting in the dark theatre watching the disembodied mouth talking talking talking about—what felt like her indefinite, disembodied experience. I was mesmerized by the mouth’s movements, spent the first five minutes, at least, trying to figure out how it was done and not listening to the words at all. When the lights went on it was shocking—to be back in a room, a place. You can see a portion of the play with Billie Whitelaw playing The Voice on YouTube.
The plays question how to integrate various parts of our lives, our selves and what is our self. It is often uncomfortable for anyone to hear our voice on a recording, to hear our own voice talking, especially in the past, to hear the choices we made, what “might” have been, to recognize our regrets being voiced about the past.
Krapp saw a conflict between love and art. He gave up love for his writing yet was a failure there too. I remember a time when I could only “do” one activity at a time. I could concentrate on my painting only at the sacrifice of other aspects of my life. Fortunately that time has past and my artwork is very naturally part of my day. There is a lot to be said in favor of seasoning, growing older,