One Battle, Many Fronts

I’ve been sending out resumes for weeks, but today was the first morning in weeks that I set an alarm. Job searching is rolling a rock up almost to the top of the hill each day just to watch it crash into a ravine as the sun sets. It’s a slow-drip infusion of limbo, and last night, as the first hint of fall air blew through the window I realized that anesthetic has had me sleepwalking through the summer. 

But summer is almost over, and it’s time to pull out the IV and fight back.

For most of my creative life, I’ve been refereeing a tug of war between my writer side and my artist side. Last night, as I began thinking about the best plan of attack, that tug of war — fed by the knowledge that I can’t serve two masters — threatened to become a quagmire.

I sat trying to choose between two passions until I looked at my empty calendar for the next day and realized that the only master I should be serving is creativity. There may be many fronts — writing, gardening or painting  – but the battle is for the creative life.

Before I went to bed last night, I made two dates for today. The first, as soon as the sun and mountain mists would be moving, was with Mt Equinox and a canvas. The second was with my blog and the short story folder on my laptop. By the time the alarm went off and my easel was packed, limbo was in full retreat.

Blow Sunshine

Blowing Sunshine, Oil on Panel, 8”x10”

Last night after work I went back to Bedlam Farm to finish a painting I had started earlier. The crowd had left for the day, so I walked around to Maria’s studio to see if it was okay to set up the easel. Her studio was dark, and, since I had texted earlier to warn them an art stalker might be setting up shop for a bit by their pasture, I decided not to knock on the back door and disturb the family. I had just opened my pochade and tripod when I heard Maria coming from the other side of the house.

“I thought I saw something go by the window,” she laughed. “You can come in! Abrah and Susan are still here!”

“Oh, thanks,” I said. I had dinner plans with my two partners in crime later in the evening, but I also didn’t want to intrude. “I’m just finishing up the piece.”

She laughed again and we chatted about the open house. It had been a bit quieter than previous open houses, possibly due to the increased number of events in town and the wet weather. Maria mentioned that one of my partners had initially described this open house as ‘lackluster’ due to the crowd size.

“I thought it was cozy,” I said. From my point of view it had been. There had been other artists making art, poets reading their work, and Jon and Maria’s sheep herding and shearing demonstrations which are always fascinating. It was like an incredibly authentic and intimate country maker faire. But I said, “I couldn’t get in the school house studio to say goodbye earlier. Remember, it doesn’t take a huge crowd to enjoy and sell art, just the right one.” Maria laughed and went back into hang out with Abrah, Susan and Jon until it was time for three of us to leave for dinner in town.

Abrah , and now Susan, and I are the girls you knew in first grade who had to be seated on opposite sides of the room for anyone else to get work done. Fortunately, for the other restaurant patrons, the three of us were seated between other people in our party at the table for 8. Other members of our party were uproariously funny, but it wasn’t until the three of us were standing on the sidewalk outside the restaurant that the volume on the laughter was in danger of alerting the Cambridge police.

“You are such a brown-noser,” Abrah teased me. “Blowing sunshine up Maria’s skirt!”

“I was telling it like it was,” I shot back.

“You were blowing sunshine,” Susan chimed in.

“Okay, it was sunshiney truth, because that’s what good friend’s do,” I said, sounding a bit drunk from my three iced teas and an afternoon of being around joyfully creative people. “They blow sunshine.” We devolved into first grade giggles and other uproarious debates about partners and theories about the shape of the earth. We broke it up by nine (i’m finding when you’re almost 50, nine p.m. is the new two a.m.)before anyone tried to tell us to clear out.

As I drove home, though, I decided, I was blowing sunshine at Maria earlier, and that doesn’t mean it wasn’t real. It had been a blissful afternoon for everyone I had met. People from all walks of life had convened to talk about making things rather than tearing people or things down. Artists and poets found receptive audiences, and, if this year is like other years’ past, at least one person in that smaller but happy crowd became aware of their own creative spark.

This morning when I met my partners in crime for breakfast, we were still giggling about my new catch phrase, but even in the cold rainy light of day, we were all feeling a bit of sunshine from the weekend’s events. As I hugged Abrah goodbye, I told her, “I’m planning on blowing sunshine your way until you come back.”

It’s a silly mantra, but I’m a silly gal, and I think I’ll keep it.

So Blow Sunshine!

Speak Up

Lake Michigan

The weekend of art at our Landscape into Abstraction class ended with the group going from table to table to view and discuss each other’s work.

At the beginning of the weekend, that discussion would have turned my stomach.  Most of the participants were former art students, and for the first half of the first day, I worried I didn’t really belong in the class.  By the time we began discussing each other’s work, I knew everyone belongs in that class — or at least one like it.

The weekend began with a brief look at abstraction, it’s history, and the places it has taken artists from van Gogh to Rothko.  Then our instructor, painter Marianne Mitchell, then talked a little about her own creative journey through different media and techniques, culminating with a demonstration of her own method.

After a few timed drawing exercises, we went to our tables to experiment with her technique and medium (oil pastels).  I had no idea what I was doing and, after trying a few pieces with the oil pastels and abstract expressionism, tried to implement ‘reckless abandon’ in my usual medium of watercolor.  At first I worried that by introducing landscape elements such as a horizon line, I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to do. I worried what all writers and artist worried – that it wasn’t good, that I should be doing something differently.

Then our teacher, in the tradition of the best creative mentors said something that everyone should hear.  “Be kind to your (creative) self,” she said.  Then she continued, “There is no supposed-to.”  And the phrase was banned for the weekend.  The rest of the weekend we explored techniques and talked about infusing principles of composition with our voice, beginning each piece with what our instructor called ‘Reckless Abandon.’

And that’s when I realized what the class was about.

At first I thought of Reckless Abandon as Reckless Joy, but it isn’t. It’s actually digging deep into your soul and finding that voice you might not ordinarily share.  It’s about just getting it out.  The next phases of the work were about shaping that voice, making it more than noise to really make it heard.

It’s something I’ve been discovering in my writing through my blog over the last few years.  But, even though I’ve reconnected to art in a very meaningful way, I’ve still felt like I wasn’t sure who I was as an artist.  It was in the timed drawing and painting exercises that eliminated planning and judgement that I realized I’m still searching for my visual voice.

That the class was as much about voice as technique came through during our final group discussion.  I noticed that each person’s reckless abandon looked completely different from the rest, and that was exactly as it was supposed to be(that was the only ‘supposed-to’ I let myself say after Saturday afternoon).

There’s this idea in our society that one needs to be a professional to engage in and share one’s creativity, whether it’s a painting or photography or music.  But when anyone, professional painters or plumbers, first chair violinists or kids plucking out a first tune on a keyboard  share their art or contribute to a community play, they are giving the gift of their authentic selves — their voice.  They are connecting us to them and themselves to us in a world that badly needs connection.

It was that gift each of us was giving the other on Sunday.