What Next?

This time last year, I was holding Thing1’s hand as he recovered from major surgery and navigating an unwanted gap year. I was still working at home, and Thing2 was still getting his feet wet in middle school. They were the center of my world and the center of my life, and I thought I knew who I was – a mom, writer and artist. The last twelve months, however, have changed all of that.

When I first started this blog seven years ago, I was a work-at-home-mom. The boys were 12 and 6 and, in addition to being the center of my world, were the centers of my days. At the time, the messes and chaotic rituals that go with raising creative kids in the country were endless sources of entertaining and, sometimes, heartbreaking, inspiration for post after post. Trying to preserve the moments, I got back to drawing/illustrating and then found my way to painting.

While Thing1 and Thing2 starred in many posts, I resisted making this a “mommy blog“ for reasons I couldn’t explain then but, after this year of change, I am starting to understand now.

I changed work venues and careers at the beginning of summer. Then Thing1 left for college after a summer of work. Thing2, a case study in extroversion, waded enthusiastically into the middle of middle school, and, while they are still the centers of my life and my heart, they are not always at the center of my day. Thing1 is carving out his own life. Thing2 is working his heart out to be better than his brother at everything. I’m getting to know them both as young adults, and it is an exhilarating experience. It’s also a confusing one.

The kids seem to be forging their identities almost effortlessly. I’ll always be a mom, but with each snip of the apron strings, my ‘mommy’ days seem to be slipping away. I’m still new enough at teaching to think of it as something I do and not yet as something I am, and that distinction has, over the last few months, repeatedly prompted a question about the other important part of my life of “What do I create?” Am I a writer who paints or an artist who writes?

With our family stories evolving away from the kitchen table near the wood stove, for the first time in seven years, I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to paint. I even started taking internet personality tests (always a reliable source of wisdom), hoping the results would spur an obvious answer and direction.

Then a friend reminded me that an artist is an artist, regardless of the medium. That meant the answer was simply in getting back to creating again. The task, now, is to start with writing something – anything – every day.

I know he’s right.

I know that the act of creating will be the discovery of the next stage of life. So bear with me as I get my new bearings. All topics are on the table, and the journey has just begun.

Saturday Gave Away

Friday the 13th rounded out this last week which also included a full moon and a lead into the upcoming week before Christmas creating what one meme called a “Teacher Trifecta of Terror” (it can be kind of scary for parents too).

Friday was actually pretty lucky for me. There were no meltdowns. Everyone got most of their work done. And, for the first time all week, I got to bed before one in the morning.

Teaching has turned into the toughest, best job I’ve ever had. The nature of our school population combined with a nationwide teacher shortage has translated into opportunities to take on more challenging responsibilities early on in my new career. The only drawback is that, some weeks, everything — creativity, fitness, diet, sleep — gets moved from the backseat to the spare.

Friday night, though, I headed out with a plan. Dinner, then Art, then sleep, followed by a day of creativity on Saturday. But, as I fought my heavy eyelids as I drove home, I felt the itinerary change. I got home and, in between moments of shut-eye interrupted by an iPad or iPhone falling to the floor, I managed to make myself a lovely burnt supper before passing out and bumping the rest of my itinerary to what I promised myself would be a “makers“ Saturday.

I kicked off Saturday, however, with an impromptu contest of “you get up first“ with my husband. After a late breakfast and laundry folding, I was determined to hit the studio. Lethargy has other ideas, keeping me on the couch long enough for the orange cat to settle on my lap (which everyone knows, by law, means staying in that exact same position until kitty is ready to move again). The day was ticking away, and guilt turned into doubt.

The sun set, and after a miraculously unburnt dinner, I thought I had just wasted one of the only unscheduled Saturdays we’ve had in months.

But the funny thing about brains is that letting them nap for a day is a lot like finally getting an overtired toddler to sleep. There’s a lot of fussing getting it to quiet. When it starts to wake up again, it can be disoriented and cranky at first, but then it really starts to acknowledge the recharge and wants to be friends again.

Mine fired up last night again about most peoples normal bedtime. After hours vegetating and dozing in front of the TV, sketchbooks started calling from down the hall. I retrieved a pad and a journal From the studio. For the next hour, my pen scratched, whispering ideas in my ear faster than I could scribble them, and reminding me that sometimes clearing your head — and your day – can be an act of creativity too.

What the Heart Needs

One of the ironies of my career change to teaching English and Special Ed is that, while I feel that an English teacher should be writing with every spare minute of time (and feel more confident about writing than any other skill), in the few minutes of each day that I devote to creativity, I end up drawing.

It is what the heart wants, even if the head is saying I should/need to write. Part of me wonders if one of the pitfalls (or blessings depending on how you look at it) of a career that demands so much emotion and thought and writing is that, at the end of the day, there is only room for the emotional release that is drawing or painting.

I recently came across a letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo. He had just received oil paints from his brother, and, during the year of waiting for the paint, had devoted himself to drawing. In the letter he mentioned how grateful he was for the time to draw, it helped him see the beauty in the paint so much better.

For my part, this last month of drawing has helped me see the beauty in my students and my life even better. It is not writing, but it is still a conversation with life.

I don’t know if the next season of creativity will feature brushes or strokes on the keyboard, but I do know that the main goal is to keep the conversation going, one way or another.

Used Art

Fun fact, when you buy art off of my site, you’re getting used art. Most of the time when I do a painting, the piece ends up on my bookshelf until it’s time to go to a show or fair. When show season ends, however, the painting doesn’t, and, having a fairly small studio/office, I hang the surplus art in our halls and rooms, and it lives there until Etsy makes the little cash register sound on my phone.

Sometimes I feel a little sorry for my husband. Sure, plenty of wives come up with redecorating ideas here and there, but living with an artist, he often comes home or wakes up to a new house. On good days, it becomes a rotating art gallery, and every bit of wall space is fair game. On the more chaotic days, there may be plans brewing for a better way to use that guestroom at the end of the hall (a bigger studio? or maybe not).

Whether the chaos is a small rotation or a major room organization, my husband’s defining goodnatured smile will appear, reminding me of my mom’s observation, “You found yourself a good man.”

I’m guessing that next to a lot of productive artists is someone with a good natured smile.

Paint Anything

Back in November, not being able to convince my husband of the wisdom of adding a new wall between our kitchen and dining area, I up-cycled a bifold closet door by painting a mural on one side and some herbs on the other to make a screen. 

Fortunately for everyone else’s sanity, I was elbow deep in a teaching certificate program and didn’t have time to act on the logical next step-painting actual doors around the house (and step risers and furniture and…), but a seed had been planted.

For some reason, teaching full-time has reignited a need to paint, and that little seed has been sprouting, despite the best efforts of my common sense to smother it. The painting spark is setting back fires that get my easel out every night and leave in-progress paintings hung in the bald spots on the walls around the living room.

It’s summer — art fair and farmers market season — so the paintings are never there for very long. The only one that doesn’t rotate out of the lineup is the screen.

A few family members innocently have suggested painting screens to take to the art fairs, turning a middle-aged artist’s thoughts to all the impromptu canvases in the world still waiting to be painted. But I think I’ll just start with a single screen (with a promise already made to the husband not to sell the one that started at all).

At the Dairy Bar

I had about two hours before we were heading to the movie, so I went looking for a place to paint. I’ve done this spot at the Wilcox Dairy ice cream stand before, but I sold the painting and wanted a bigger one.  The new one isn’t done yet, but I have still got something good out of the afternoon.

I got some water from the ice cream stand and chatted with the woman who is running it now. Fifteen years ago a friend of ours ran it, Planting a beautiful herb garden nearby so customers could sit and enjoy the flowers as they eat their Sundays. Her son and my son were friends when they toddlers. Now the son of the new ice cream lady is helping mind the ice cream stand.

He noticed me setting up my easel and asked his mom if he could come over to watch. I had the sky started and had blocked in the outlines by the time my new companion arrived.

We chatted about how to paint and where to get paint. He said he wished he could pay for lessons. I reminded him that once he started painting, someday he would show somebody else the ropes. Then my young “apprentice” pointed out a crate in front of the ice cream stand that belonged to him. He asked if I would put it in the painting, and I agreed.

I hadn’t got that far by the time it was time to go to the movie,but I’m coming back to it now. When it’s done I think I’ll take my new pal a copy.

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