It’s December, and school is out. I have homework over the break, and work never stops. Still, this is close to recess as I normally get. And recess is time to play.
I used some of my December bonus to buy an iPad Pro and a pencil, thinking it might be faster to trace illustrations and to scan them in and clean them up in Photoshop. In the long run, it will probably be faster. In the short term, however, it is been an excuse to play just for the sake of playing. I have generated five or 10 iterations of the first page of my book, not making any progress and yet, making tons of it.
After three months where every moment of my life was defined by functionality, sometimes being able to make art just for the sake of art is progress.
I had paid my booth fee for the summer so it was free to setup my tent with my notecards at the summer market yesterday.
There were a few bigger events in the area so our corner of Vermont was quiet for this stage of the summer tourist season. It wasn’t the most profitable morning, but as I sat across the street from the Episcopal church in Arlington, I was sure I could see the leaves of the maple tree in front of the churchyard cemetery changing color.
It marked the first official day of autumn for me — an unexpected and pleasant little bit of something that cost absolutely nothing.
One of the fun things about self publishing a children’s book is that in addition to the many hats you get to wear (I love hats) as writer, illustrator, layout girl, and official chocolate tester, you learn a lot about the rules that govern the creation of many books your own kids read.
Did you know, for example, the standard length for children’s books is 32 pages? The standard was established by Beatrix Potter and her publisher Frederick Warne as way to get the most pages out of a single sheet of paper. It was an economic decision that stood the test of time.
As a writer, illustrator, naturalist, and well-known rule-breaker, Beatrix Potter has been an idol of mine for some time, and as I’ve been laying out the Truth about Trolls, I had to decide whether or not to follow Beatrix’s guidelines, or make my own rules for the modern world. Remembering that my own kids never argued about a story lasting longer, I ended up deciding it was better to stretch the text over a few extra pages and pictures.
I’ve read many books to my kids over the years, never thought to check the word count. The modern word count is about 250 to 1000 words depending on the age of the kid. Many of the classics such as The Giving Tree or Sylvester and the Magic Pebble are much longer, settling on a word count was a tough decision. In the end, I trimmed it down to as close to 1000 words as possible, and, as the illustrations take shape and help tell the story, the word count continues to shrink.
Ultimately, walking the line has been less about following or breaking rules and more about listening to the story. Hopefully it’s what, in 2017, Beatrix would do.
In any other garden, these would be weeds. On the dunes along Lake Michigan, they’re delicate blossoms that, in concert with the dune grasses that cover the sandy bluff, prevent erosion with an effectiveness human might and engineering has yet to match.
We’re vacationing this week in southwestern Michigan along the great lake. I had big dreams of spending the week painting the water and the weather which never fail to inspire. Thing2, however, was also inspired. The absence of glowing screens combined with an abundance of immediate and extended family helped Thing2 rediscover the joy of corralling parents and grandparents into card games and rounds of Monopoly highlighted by rules he makes up as he goes along. When we finally got down to the beach, I was happy just to soak up the surroundings. I did a few quick studies and photos of things that may become paintings later. I’m starting to think, though, that the most important part of painting the landscape may be actually experiencing it — and the rest of life — while you’re in it.
This is a bouquet of blueberries I painted for my mom who is in the hospital right now. She should’ve gone to the blueberry Festival in South Haven Michigan last weekend, but instead she went to the ER.
She’s on the mend now, but I think the scariest moment for me in our relationship was Saturday night to say she was going in for surgery. She sound worried, and she never sounds worried. I’ve watched her merrily making blueberry muffins with a waterspout making a beeline for her kitchen and ask if anyone wanted butter at the table for them, so when she was worried, I was worried.
I’m a mom, but worrying about my mom made me feel like I was five again. So, when the person who taught me everything I know about mothering and unconditional love got sick, I did what I would’ve done when I was five. I made her something.
We will be together in a few days, and I’ll give her as big hug as possible. For now, it really is the positive thought that counts.
Wanting to protect him in his formative years, I’ve never written Thing1’s name on this blog. On the occasion of his 17th birthday last week, however, Thing1 went on a walk-about up the back of Mount Equinox, the highest peak of the Taconics. It was from the top of the Equinox, about 4PM, that he sent me the photo that inspired this painting.
Mac – short for MacLean is as independent-minded as you’d think someone with a name like his might be, but he’s also something I’ve never been.
He’s brave. Not fearless – but brave.
On the way up the mountain, he texted a few photos and the occasional weather report – ‘a storm is passing and it’s so cool – don’t worry, Mom’. His phone ran out of battery before he could text about the bear that crossed his path on the way down the mountain, but neither a lack of communications or a close encounter of the furry kind sent him scurrying to our doorstep. The only thing that brought him off the mountain seemed to be the acknowledgement that, as it got darker out, his mother would be doing what mothers do best – worrying.
When he got back, he showed us the pictures he’d taken and told us of everything he’d seen — the abandoned farm, the gates of the monastery that sits midway up the mountain and the animals that had crossed his path. He ended his story with plans for a next hike and an invitation to join him on a future adventure, and I realized we’d received the best possible birthday present from Mac on his 17th birthday.
We heard a kid who could acknowledge the reality of unexpected dangers on a hike while refusing to let fear keep him from the path. And I knew his invitation wasn’t a cry for help but an encouragement to join him on a new adventure.
Newsfeeds filled with atrocities committed by Americans against Americans as well as with the specter of Nazi banners and slogans taking center stage at the home of one of America’s top universities this weekend made it easy for anger and worry to reach their saturation points.
Anger is counterproductive. I believe it is important to bear witness, but I also believe anger and worry are toxic. They change no minds. They don’t get to the root of the hate.
For me, the only thing that deflates the anxiety is paint on a blank where I can meditate on the things that do drive out hate — education, kindness,hope and the faith that we can and will be better.
Saturday and Sunday as I painted a familiar field in Arlington, I ruminated on the things that have made Vermont — and, by extension, this country — great for me. Generosity, seeing neighbors helping neighbors and finding joy in their successes have been the hallmarks of our life here. The memory of collective kindness doesn’t just soothe the soul, it inspires it to pay the civility and love forward.
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”
“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Ironically, in the week of a weekend filled with hate and murder, it seems more vital than ever to remember those words and think about how best to realise them.
I finally caught a glimpse of high summer as I sped home from craft fair yesterday afternoon. The crops at Earth Sky Time community farm in Manchester, VT are thriving but also reminding me how quickly the summer is getting away.
From the attic window I can see Little green apples getting ready to be edible, if somewhat ugly and scarred , green apples. The worms will have surely decided that a few apples are already too good to pass by, but they always leave plenty for us.