My friend Karen was visiting for a couple of days. Lila enjoys her company and so do I. I’ve never been good with roommates but love houseguests. Karen visits often enough that we have established some history, almost like roommates. I cook, she helps with the cutting and chopping, washing food and dishes, walking and playing with Lila, etc. But I have had to learn to ask her to help with the little things around the house. She didn’t always offer to help and I didn’t ask. Because I don’t want to resent her visiting and I do want her to visit, I watch myself, test how I feel, and have learned to ask. It’s a good lesson for me.
It’s also nice to have someone here. Just a sympathetic body to ground me. There is so much to do taking care of a house sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the smallest things. I’ve been wanting to have my water tested (I’m on a well) for two years, ever since Lila came here. But it took Karen’s visit for me to do it, finally. We also cleaned out my fabric closet. By the end of that adventure both of us were overwhelmed. I’m so glad to have done it. And I couldn’t have done it alone.
Karen and I also have a favorite movie we watch every time she stays here: The Big Easy. And every time I watch it I enjoy it even more. (It must be a good movie!) There’s violence in it but at least the bad guys are (mostly) the ones who get killed. The good guys have fun—dance, eat good food, make love, laugh, solve crimes. It doesn’t hurt to watch it and it doesn’t leave bad afterimages. So Karen can come visit often.
I went to see No Country for Old Men. With such an intriguing title, I expected something different. No movie for squeamish people, this one! I closed my eyes through most of the bloody violence (and there was plenty) and even so, I couldn’t get the brutal images from the movie out of my mind. The scenery was beautiful, the acting good, but I would have preferred less consuming violence. But then, that is what it was about.
The movie came together for me at the end, made the rest of it palatable—at the end, there was the only expressions of real feelings from real people, people who just didn’t want that kind of life any more. The sheriff asked his uncle if he still wanted revenge on the man who put him in a wheelchair. No, he said, it can consume you so you just move on.
I walked out of the theatre feeling more alert, more fear, and don’t want to see another movie like that, don’t want to live that way.
I recently had some photos taken of my new work. It seems sometimes I need to have the photos taken so I can see what I am doing, so I'm able to take a step back, have a different perspective, a different point of view. As a result, I need to rework several paintings, of course.
But here are a few I think I will not be changing:
Tamar’s (and my) friend Lori has a fascinating, well written article published in Time Magazine! It’s worth a read!
It talks about the benefits of a good marriage. The chemical effects in the brain that explain the longer life, better health of happily married couples. They have proof now of how it works (better read the article—it’s complicated).
I know my dad’s life was extended by many years when met Gertrude and had a happy, twenty-five year marriage. After my mother died, my dad’s grief was overwhelming him, painful for him, painful to see. I wouldn’t say my parents’ marriage was a happy one, but it was good, especially in the later years when they could enjoy each other without the pressures of raising children. They did care about each other. They had a commitment to their marriage but my mother was more sociable and wanted more excitement in her life. My dad liked to build things in his spare time—cabinets, violins, tool sheds. My mother called herself a basement widow.
With Gertrude, my dad did all the things my mother would have liked to do—travel, restaurants, social engagements. The only bad year my dad and Gertrude had was when he wanted her to retire. She resented it. Said, “What am I going to do, clean out the closets every day?”
They had a busy, adventurous life. My dad lived until he was ninety, a very happy man.
I went to a dance performance Saturday night. Louise Bedard dance troupe from Montreal. The dance was based (very loosely) on Hannah Hoch’s collage pieces. For the most part it was enjoyable enough. But, like most of the modern dance I have seen recently, it went on too long, far too long. And it could have used a more healthy dose of influence from Hannah Hoch. Her collage work is so fascinating.
As it is dark in the theatre I often nod off somewhere in the middle of these long, repetitive dances I watched my friends watching the performance and no one seemed to be sleeping. But afterwards, one person said he was sleeping with his eyes open. Of course, it was hard to imagine. Although I must say, I do it regularly. It was documented at an early age. Somewhere around six, I remember faking sleep on the living room couch. But my mother said, no, she’s not sleeping, her eyes are closed.
When I lived in New York, I used to go see Merce Cunningham at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. His performances consisted of several pieces, each distinct from the other. Other of the major modern dancers of that time did the same thing. It makes more sense to me. I never fell asleep in those, even with my eyes open. But then, . . .
After a week or more of mild weather (so mild, my driveway was almost clear of ice), we are having snow again. And possibly rain on Friday. But for now, the snow is incredibly beautiful, making interesting patterns on the bushes (and on Lila):
Yesterday, Lila and I went for a walk in the woods by the brook. I regretted not bringing my camera. I wanted to capture the silence somehow.
Even though she's been across it many times, Lila balked at the bridge now that it is snow covered so we didn't go far. Maybe Thursday. I have to teach today.
Last Thursday in my T’ai Chi class, several people commented that my hair looked nice. And I had been thinking it was one of those bad-hair-days. So, whose to judge? Whose opinion counts, mine or the one who looks at me?
And, more important, what about “judging” good (or bad-hair days) in artwork? My answer there would be it’s up to me to know when the work works. But time is always the true test.
Also, in my T’ai Chi class, Jenny, Dr. Wu’s wife, told me they had noticed a lot of people here have poor posture. She wondered why. I’ve thought about it since then and surmise that good posture is not part of our culture, certainly not as it is in theirs. From an early age, they have been involved in body-flexibility exercises. Dr. Wu told us his 80 year old T’ai Chi teacher could bend backwards, almost to the floor. And when over 100, was running up and down stairs, no problem. All I can say is Very Inspiring!
This has been, without a doubt, a very busy week. Enough that I laid myself down for a few hours yesterday just to recuperate. Yes, school started this week. And it takes a lot of thought to make it work. Picking out slides, picking up the class list, gathering materials, Xeroxing outlines and copies of skeletons.
It did work and well. I was pleased. I made them work hard, set them up for the rest of the semester. First I had them draw the skeleton standing on its post, then lying down on the floor (the skeleton, that is!), then copy a drawing by Degas and finally, draw the skeleton in their copied drawing.
Lila went to visit a friend for the morning while I was teaching. She enjoyed her visit, didn’t miss me, was a proper guest. And I was very pleased.
Besides teaching, I’m preparing canvases for new paintings and working on others. One of the pieces I am working on will have twenty-five 20” by 20” panels, put together in five rows across, five down. I’ve done this before, sometimes as nine panels (three across, three down) and also once as twenty-five. The biggest problem at the moment (besides time) is that the company I have been buying the prepared canvases from (the smaller ones, I have the larger ones specially made and I stretch them up) changed the quality and size of the stretcher bars, reducing them, without reducing the cost. I like the frame to be thicker and sturdier than the new ones. But I have no choice; I have to use them. But I have spoken about my discontent to the store and they say a lot of people are complaining. Right now it’s what I have so I’m moving on.
I’m also working, at the same time, on a nine panel piece. It is with the older stretchers so I am grateful to have some of those from before. Meanwhile, my studio is almost impassible! Paintings everywhere! I’ll have to figure out a way to clear some space.
The last few days Lila and I have been taking our walks and laying ball on the lake. It's frozen thick now but the weather is warming up so we may not be able to do this for a while. We are getting an early January thaw, just like we had an early start to winter. But, no doubt, the cold will return.
And one last view: of my house from the lake.
Yesterday Yoko came over to visit. I had taken care of their house for a few weeks while they were both away. Her husband in Denmark, she in Japan. Both working. So they missed the recent deluge of snowstorms we have been having.
It was good to see her again. Until a couple of years ago we would get together once a week to play duets—Dvorak, Grieg, Satie (my favorite). Then we were both too busy to continue. Yesterday, we ended up playing some jazz pieces together, four-hand piano. We were improvising as we went along. As she has studied music, has perfect pitch and also teaches piano and saxophone now, she could help me along.
I’ve been struggling with learning jazz piano for the past year or so. Being classically trained, knowing how to read music, play what is written, put in my own expression, etc. hasn’t helped one bit in playing jazz (well, at least I can read music!). Jazz is much more complicated, requires more presence. I have so much to learn. It’s either exciting or daunting, depending on when you ask me. Playing with Yoko was exciting. And we made a date to get together every Friday afternoon. That’s even more exciting!
I went to the Art College yesterday to check it out, get my course outlines Xeroxed, get new keys, pick out slides for next Wednesday’s class, and get a tour of the newly renovated building. Basically, what I did was chit-chat, shoot the breeze, enjoy being back there. I went into a few offices just to say hello, I’m back and enjoying every minute of it.
I actually didn’t think I would ever get another class to teach, never be asked back. And I didn't think of that as a problem. I missed the students, seeing what they are doing, but I have kept in touch with quite a few. I found I liked the freedom to paint as much as I want, to make my own schedule. Not to be beholden to anyone, no responsibilities other than painting.
My identity used to be tied up in the phrase “Yes, I teach at NSCAD” but it’s not anymore. After a year away, I’m just a person who paints. So they are dragging me from my pleasure dome, but not kicking and screaming. I’m really looking forward to teaching again. It’s funny how, when it’s not the most urgent thing in my life, when I don’t feel I HAVE to do it, how much easier it is to enjoy it.
Did I ever tell you my favorite snow story? It has to do with an exhibit I had in Washington, D.C., back in 1983, I believe. It was a show at the Henri Gallery, of books I had made. I had just sold my loft in Manhattan and moved into a one year sublet before moving on to Nova Scotia. Aaron was about fourteen, going to Hunter College High School and Tamar was finishing up university. She wasn’t around.
As the opening reception was on a Thursday night, I went down to Washington by train Thursday morning, planning to return Friday evening. That way, Aaron would be in school both days and only alone one evening. The book exhibit was a big success in that everyone who came to the reception was very enthusiastic about them so it felt good.
My dad and stepmother were away that week but I remember staying in their house, my childhood home. The next morning I awoke to several inches of snow and in Washington, that’s unusual. Washington doesn’t have good snow removal so I decided to take an earlier train back to New York, before transportation froze up.
I arrived back at my rental loft around noon. When I walked in I saw Aaron in his corner of the room with a young lady. I was surprised, expecting him to be at school, of course.
I said “What are YOU doing here??
And he said: “What are YOU doing here??
And she said: “What do you expect. We’re TEENAGERS!”
As for the books, the gallery was in an old but beautiful building and the snow on the roof was heavy, causing the roof to cave in. So that was the end of the book exhibit.
Happy Birthday, Aaron!
We’ve had five snowstorms this week. One every thirty-six hours. Usually they end in rain. Then freezing temperatures again. To my surprise, I am feeling quite comfortable with the weather, not nearly so upset as I was at the beginning of December when all this almost daily snowfalls started.
So today, after I picked up my purse that I left behind yesterday, Lila and I took a walk through Point Pleasant Park. It was warm (relatively—above freezing) so the ice had become soft. We were able to take our usual route, an hour’s walk around the park.
Saturday we went to the Dingle Park on some trails. There are some beautiful walks through the woods there, with hardly anyone crossing our path. I had left my Palm at Jody’s house Christmas Day (I don't know how that happened!) so she brought it to me and we all walked together, Jody and Alix, Lila and me. It was much icier then.
I think I will start putting my car keys in my purse so I can’t leave home or a party without it!
So, another day, another year. Somehow, even though nothing is really different, it feels good. Almost like a fresh start. I don’t know why. Just the psychological power of a day on the calendar.
Last night I spent the evening in my favorite way, playing with Lila and then cuddling up with a good book (Miles Davis’ Autobiography—I’m almost finished). It was stormy outside as usual these days making it a perfect night to stay home. Today was warm and sunny, relatively speaking, and I went to a couple of parties. I was one of the first guests at the first one as I had been looking forward to this party all year. The hostess makes the most amazing cream puffs and I had waited 365 days to have another one. Both parties were joyful, friendly, noisy and fun. I left (not only my purse at the second party but) with a sore jaw from talking so much. I don’t even talk that much when I am teaching!
We are expecting yet another snowstorm then rain tonight. So it will be even more icy tomorrow. This morning the road was like a skating rink. I wear cleats on my shoes but it was still slippery. It’s going to be a long winter if it keeps going this way.