Friday, November 28, 2014

Painting in Process: Tenatively, "Bubbly"

acrylic on canvas
24" x 30"

Monday, October 27, 2014

Time Lapses

After my mother died, I kept thinking about time. When she was sick, there were predictable thoughts -- precious time, wasted time, good times & bad, being cheated of time, how much time she lived and how long she suffered in illness.

But after she died, I more often thought about time as it works as a dimension. Time, sometimes called the 4th dimension, locates a specific event as it occurs in a specific location.  After she died, that's the time I wanted to understand.

I've long tracked my own history by location, e.g, if it was when I lived in New Mexico the first time, it must have been 2006.  Because of my many moves, my timeline is easily tied to longitude and latitude. Many of those locations I have repeated.

In The Moviegoer, Walker Percy writes about the pleasure of repetitions separated by time.  In his character's formula, a repetition is "the re-enactment of past experience toward the end of isolating the time segment which has lapsed in order that it, the lapsed time, can be savored of itself and without the usual adulteration of events that clog time like peanuts in brittle." When I moved back to a location, it was often with the (mistaken) belief that the peanuts would be gone this time.  And, of course, it was never like that -- life is always throwing peanuts at you, no matter how many times you leave and return, a point that I'd been rather slow to learn.

During my mother's illness, time's looming presence for all our family was largely tracked by her life, with markers for key moments such as diagnosis, first surgery, chemos, remission, recurrence, emergency surgeries, hospice, death.  And we chronicled the first of every event after her death, as in, all the things she missed, all the times and places when and where we missed her.

But if time is just a portion of the equation of locating a person in a spacetime, I reasoned that it seemed like just one measly layer, one that if you could just peel through it a bit, you could see everything and everyone that had ever been there in that location throughout time, and see them clearly. Think time-lapse films, where the plant germinates, grows, blossoms, withers and dies.  Everything is there on the film, all happening all at once; it's just where you choose to play the film that gives you what you want to see.  

In the refashioning of history and relationships that happens when one party is no longer there to refute them, I found my mother everywhere. There were remnants of her in the places she frequented, in every object she touched, even in the way she appeared in dreams, as dream time seems the most permeable to changing the physics of time, a loophole or wormhole or what-have-you.

In Bill Bryson's book A Short History of Nearly Everything, he talks about the dispersal of durable atoms over time and points out that we all may have a little bit of Shakespeare in us (o happy writers!), as those freewheeling atoms have been circling about for long enough that some may have found their way into your pinkie finger  But if you're hoping that you have some Elvis atoms in you - sorry. There hasn't been enough time since his passing to have dispersed the atoms far enough through the universe for you have incorporated his atoms. I thought about Mom's atoms when I walked on the beach, splashing feet in the water, as up in Maine, some of her ashes went into that water. Who doesn't want the whole ocean, all oceans, as their mother?

People talk about ghosts, but what if it's just you can sense evidence of where they were, like perfume that lingers in a room someone has just left?  And what if everything is drowned in that smell, and peels layers of time away like turpentine on paint?

Or what if you just miss your mom - and you want to bend your limited scientific knowledge to keep her around for a while longer, even if only is in some great cosmic metaphysical time travel kind of way?

Joan Didion describes in The Year of Magical Thinking how after the death of her husband, when she was clearing out his closet, she kept some of his shoes because he would need them when he came back.  It was around then that she realized she was not, perhaps, holding things together quite as well as she had hoped. She writes:

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes."

I remembered that comment with particular relief when, after my mother died, I realized some part of me believed Mom was sending me messages in the lyrics of pop songs.

Immediately after she died, I moved to Florida.  Coincidentally, Phillip Phillip's song "Home" was playing incessantly everywhere, the song with the refrain, "Just know you're not alone / Cause I'm going to make this place your home."  If, for instance, you are afraid you're going to start to cry for no reason standing in the towels aisle of Target, and that song comes lilting on the piped-in music, it feels like a benediction - or it did for me.

And then I spent some time pondering how it must be for those people with schizophrenia or psychotic breaks of some kind who believe they are receiving coded messages from the TV, and I got a little uncomfortable with finding comfort in pop songs and feared I was just a short time hop away from wearing a tinfoil hat to keep the aliens at bay. But even with that, I took the comfort anyway, that moment at Target and those that came after, moments where the music felt like what I needed to hear just then -- a coincidence, a serendipity, a sign, grace, good vibes, self-nurturance or my mom looking out for me, whatever it was, I took that comfort. I let it be, which I suppose is my own version of faith.

So when an ABBA tune played while I was in the rug section in IKEA, I got teary because I figured it was A Sign that buying furnishings was a good plan, tending to my new home.  Mom and I listened to ABBA in the car on the way to chemo a couple of times.  She came to ABBA late in life, having spent most of her life listening to classical music and occasionally musicals, but somewhere in there, Mamma Mia picked up the relentless happy beats of ABBA.

After Mom died, I turned to time, wanting more of it, wanting to redo it, wanting to relive the good parts and fix the bad parts, and I wanted her to still exist in a fashion, to be literally living and breathing.  And in the timeline, she is.  I can't fold time over like a Star Trek episode, but then again, I live on a planet that is still receiving light from stars that could have winked out of existence hundreds of years ago.  If all things are simultaneously happening in all timelines, then in some tiny portion of those instances, there is Mom humming along to store music as she did sometimes.  Why shouldn't I find parts of her in pop songs -- or wherever else she pops up?

Graffiti seen in a park, Bangor, ME

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Back from the Dead

Having not posted on this blog for months, I found I'm tongue-tied by the prospect of return.  Like most things, writing is a habit, and when you fall out of the habit, picking it up again comes with the aches and pains of, say, trying to start jogging again (another habit I am trying to resurrect).

Confession: The last months have not been full of giant creativity.  Until very recently, my easel remained disturbingly dusty.  Last week, I finally brushed off some very old short stories for some revision.  But largely, I reached a What's the Point moment with art, which led to an extended stall, and so I explored other avenues in my eternal quest on How to Feel Good.

This wasn't made any easier in July, since it became clear my beloved 17-year-old cat Leo was heading down to his final decline.  In the weeks in between the 1st anniversary of my mother's death and her birthday, he was diagnosed with cancer, and became so weak that he could no longer walk. I had to have him put to sleep. I cried a lot in July.

Leo sporting his acupuncture needles. 
Aside from innumerable veterinarian visits, I also spent a lot of time in an easy chair napping with needles in my ears, arms and legs -- I discovered the magic of acupuncture. Typically, my cat received acupuncture first (from a vet), with the hope that it would help his pain issues, at first thought just to be worsening arthritis. And it did seem to make him feel more relaxed.   Given that animals have no interest in the placebo effect, it seemed a good bet it might help me too.  I found a community acupuncture clinic (for humans) ( and got myself into that lounger. On my first few visits, I was near elated post treatments, perhaps a sign that I really needed to calm the heck down.  More recently, my reaction has been less intense, although I still leave relaxed and soothed.

In August, I started a couple of classes at the local community college in environmental science. Given that it's been twenty or so years since I've taken a science class, that was a mild shock to the system.  And yet, my 20 year old student self persists in some ways, with notebooks full of doodles and journal entries interspersed with actual notes. I still sit in the back of the class and daydream too much and still manage to cram my way to As on exams (which probably pleases me more than it should, the gold star of intellectual approval). College campuses are, from the small sample of my recent exploration, more or less the same, except for the addition of cell phones.
You missed seeing this amazing mural from the exhibit My Generation:
Young Chinese Artists. 
It closed at the end of September.  Still time
to see Jamie Wyeth's Portraits of Rudolf Nureyev though. 
There are still guys on skateboards weaving between very young women trading stories about their, yes, prom dates. Color me Methuselah.

Through most of my silent summer, I continued on at work at the museum, and continued to be impressed by the kindness of most of my coworkers.  I left that job at the end of September, as their kindness no longer successfully masked the inherently dull nature of processing memberships. I saw several coworkers at the last exhibit opening, where I was just a civilian again, there to see the art and collect a little shop gossip. I'm immensely grateful to the people there for their good will during my odd transitional first year here in Florida, something I worry I failed to make clear.

In the last months, I've also spent a great deal of time looking for a house to purchase.  I've looked at zillions, thanks to a very patient real estate agent, and even made offers on a couple, but nothing has quite come together, which has left me questioning the whole project.  Is buying a home going to make me feel rooted?  Or trapped?  Will I feel at home, or like an impostor? Will I just add inability to decorate to my list of character flaws? Could I overthink this more?
17-year-old Hazel pointing out that not only is she still
alive, she is also still darn cute. She'd also like a backyard
for lizard hunting. 

In my online searching, for a time, I was also looking for dates when not scanning real estate ads. The process is not dissimilar, where you scan through pictures and profiles and see what you can live with (no garage, but a lovely fireplace) and what you can't (appears to be screaming racist and not-so-bright). Thanks to the wonders of online dating, I met with four people in person, and three of them were pleasant enough, if not fabulous love matches, a reasonable percentage all things considered. But then I reached my saturation point. Right now, I'm not sure I want to hear about more divorces and broken hearts (and this also begs the question, if you've only been divorced for 45 seconds, or you're desperately hung up on your all-but-perfect ex, or you're not sure, but you might actually hate all women, then why exactly am I sitting here having a cup of tea with you? Do I have a special gift for picking people who are unavailable? Or am I just too picky in general? Am I supposed to be so fanfuckingtastic that I make all forget any previous woes? Sorry, that's clearly not gonna happen; we all drag our baggage into the event, as evidenced by this mini-rant).

The aptly named Sunset Beach, Treasure Island, FL
Maybe despite all my relentless questing and researching and occasional successes all things are not found on the internet. Shocking. I am trying to spend less time tangling up in the world wide web and more time out wandering in the real live world.

Throughout my tenure in Florida, I've remained dedicated to my sunset walks the beach and enjoying people watching happy locals and tourists. A week ago, a woman was standing stock still at the tide line because an enormous dragonfly had landed on her.  She was beside herself pleased with its magical presence: "He thinks I'm a great big flower."  Yesterday, I saw a woman sauntering along with a brightly-colored parrot perched with great dignity on her shoulder.  Never underestimate how delightful it is to watch the tide slowly devour a sandcastle or how in-tune the herons are with the possibility of snacks as they linger by the fisherman.

Philippe Park
Besides my beach trips, I've been checking out local parks, mini-road trips to find new views.  The slightly-busted camera that lives in my purse is getting a work out, and I've explored places like Philippe Park, which is just crazily beautiful.

I know this much: happy does not come from basking in some external bullshit socially-acceptable status checklist. I know people with houses, jobs, relationships, friends and full bank accounts who are also flat out miserable, and desperate for someone/something to blame (a bigger house, a "better" job, more money, a spouse or partner who doesn't or does __[fill in the blank]__, losing just 10 more pounds, waiting just one more year for ____ to happen).  Who I don't know are that many people that are actually, on balance, mostly content with their lives.  Some, mind you, many even.  But not as many as you'd think given their full checklists.

And maybe no one should be too content, lest that be too close to complacent.  One review of the news is enough to verify that there is no shortage of pain, tragedy, misery and horror out there, the real stuff, not my first-world middle class angst. Should anyone be content in the face of the sad state of human nature, the environment, governments, world politics, religions, wars, swaths of --isms and violence run amok?

Or is that just evidence of my bad attitude, an inability to thoroughly embrace the power of positive thinking?

That's something to ponder as I walk the beach and see if I can capture a photo of a pelican in flight, something to mull on while I  breathe the sea air.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day

Quilt made by Margot Daffron,
finished by her daughter Susan
Designed and pieced together by my mother, this quilt was (we believe) intended for me, but still resided in the UFO (unfinished object) category at the time of her death. My sister had the pieced work professionally quilted and finished the edges and backing herself, and mailed the completed quilt to me a few weeks ago for my 45th birthday.

As such, on Mother's Day, I can curl up on the couch and be warmed by the colorful heart and creativity of my mother.

Thanks to my sister for such an amazing gift


Happy Mother's Day, Mom.  We miss you.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Impressionable Artist

Long ago, when I was in college, I went drinking with a strawberry blond boy named Jonathan.  At different times, we hoped some romance would blossom between us, but never at the same time, and so it never did, which is just as well, as we had not much in common.  The last memory I have of him is him emphatically and ineffectually trying to explain to me that the water filtration system he was selling was not, indeed, a pyramid scheme. 

Well before that, however, one evening we were up in his dorm room, and he showed me a painting he had recently done, an abstract.  He said it was a personal piece to him, along the lines of a self-portrait and I giggled and said, “colorful.”  He put the painting to the side then, and gave me a disappointed and somewhat condescending look, at which point, I sighed, and went on, “I see the slash of red working though it as a representation of the anger that runs through you that you both try to suppress and secretly enjoy, but that the blues and greens behind it are more accurate to your core self, which is more placid and flexible and liquid, if less aggressive – that’s where you peacefulness lies.  Over here, in that dark corner, I see a reference to the grief that you carry with you – your father’s death, perhaps – but this explosion of shapes and color over here, that seems really joyful to me…”  I went on at some length, weaving in whatever I had gleaned about him through brief conversations and what I had intuited about his personality and way of being in the world, and connected it into that painting, a complicated line of compliments and complaints wrapped in a filmy gauze of bullshit.  I was a twenty-one years old English major, after all; seat-of-the-pants critique and rampant symbolism was my world (see for another example of that). 

By the end my explication of his art, Jonathan’s eyebrows were pulled together in creeped-out alarm.   He turned the painting to the wall, out of view.  Shortly thereafter, he shuffled me out the door. 

This is the thing about art: we want to be known through it, but then we don’t.  We use our own codes and symbols, hide our truths in plain sight, and then see who catches on to the joke – or attempts to rewrite our lines. 

In senior year of high school, for instance, a lot of my notebooks have this symbol:
which I made up because it has all the letters of my crush’s name built into it, along with a modified eye because he had ridiculously pretty extra-long eyelashes, and I personally felt a little too self-conscious under the watchful gazing eye of society and nice-looking boys. My little logo served the same purpose as writing his name with little hearts around it, but in a less mushy, more abstracted way. 

Given that my way into art has always been through character, through the emotional world of the writer or painter (including when that artist is me), working in an art museum poses somewhat of a challenge. Although my literary knowledge is broad, I have zero formal education in art history, and scant teaching in painting technique from several short art classes.  What I do know is hit or miss through whichever signs I’d read in art museums I've frequented or the artists I've researched or tried to mimic stylistically.  I can tell an impressionist painting on sight, but I can’t tell you exactly why.  I've limited information on the revolution it posed.  I can tell you they used purple for shadows. 

I know Modigliani figures have elongated faces and long necks, and those graceful long lines give me some insight into how he must have been as a person, someone full of romantic ideals and yearning – but that is entirely imagined on my part, even less informed than my armchair analysis of Jonathan’s painting given I’ve never shared a beer with Modigliani.  Modigliani was ill for much of his life, and hid his illness with excesses of alcohol and drugs (which obviously came with its own set of problems).  I feel that secretiveness and despair in the way he presents people in the world.  But these are simply my own loosey-goosey thoughts on a famously tragic artist that died young. 

Mood and style are only a small part of the conversations of the art world, where artists are categorized into larger schools of thought, movements across time and society.  Artists rise to the top given the tastes and values of that time.  Warhol’s fame could not have launched in the era before mass-media advertising and a growing cult of iconic celebrity and narcissism.  The rise of photography likely impacted the fall of realism.  Art museums carry on the cannon of the accepted norms, expanding what qualifies as art only once it has been debated in the smaller galleries.  Not too long ago, photography was considered a science experiment, not fine art.   Now, the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg (where I work) has a curator dedicated to its extensive photography collection.

While the sociological implications of movements of art intrigue me, they don’t fascinate me the way individual stories do.  My leanings are toward the microcosm, the personal, the individual, the emotional, the right brain.  Self-taught artists, especially those that are working through their own demons, particularly attract me.  My left-brain knowledge of the therapeutic effect of art creation is extensive.  I read reams of journal articles on art therapy, particularly as it applies to PTSD, performing research for a former client. Their project was to create an art therapy software program for combat veterans.  The user’s final product for that software?  Graphic novels.  Yes, comic books, that “low” art form currently enjoying a renaissance of reevaluation.  The MFA recently held a panel discussion with some of the leading comic artists, a sure sign that comics’ inherent “artiness” has been clearly established. 

These are conversations I seldom have at work though; I work in Development, not Programs or Curatorial. On our end of the hallway, our mission is to keep the financial wheels turning.  We speak eloquently, but sometimes vaguely, about the importance and relevance of art.  We seek to open eyes and hearts through museum programs, but also pocketbooks and wallets, as without those donations, the doors close, and Curatorial down at the other end of the all will have no opportunity to choose who among the many are worthy of display in the next exhibit.  The give and take between serving the community and being supported by the community is a tricky line in the art world.  There are days where I yearn for the purity of academics, where you get to dig into the meat of your chosen issue without thought of how it will affect funding.  [pause]. And here I recognize the naivetĂ© of that idea too – if you, for instance, take your thesis advisor’s work to task, you may find your academic career brief; if your research and grant applications hold interest only to you, be prepared to fund them yourself.

The humanities always work within that strange context of trying to tease out, in a logical, left-brain way, what our right-brain just “knows.”  Minor keys sound sad.  Bright colors evoke strong emotion.  Short sentences spike up the action.  Humanities seek to quantify the techniques that raise some people’s art to, in some people’s eyes, exquisite levels. An art museum is but one forum, albeit at times a stodgy one, where that conversation takes place. 

And there are times where that conversation is just the rambling of young men and women wondering about their place in the world.  I’ve no idea what happened to Jonathan, if he still paints or sells water-filtration products or went on to do something totally different, finding ways to feed the hungry or shelter the rich.  I work part-time at an art museum and ruminate on art and emotion and wrestle with my odd paintings while trying to keep my geriatric cats alive.  Amedeo Modigliani died of tuberculosis in 1920 when he was ten years younger than I am today, leaving behind a body of work that continues to move people in ways they can’t fully articulate.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What I've Been Working On

After a distressingly long absence from painting, I'm putting in a little time at the easel.

Various paintings in process:

Heartbeat - This piece was a less-than-successful portrait I started in a class months ago that I put aside until recently. I changed a lot of colors around, added shadows, background texture, etc. I may never love it, but it's significantly more appealing than it was. Her face is based off a magazine photo, although since, ahem, representative drawing is not my strength, it only looks somewhat like the original person.
Floral - This painting originally had a watery base, that I've since added on some more impasto effects to give it more oomph and depth. It's still essentially abstract floral and light. I may try to emphasize where light is coming from more, or I may just leave it suffused - I'm not sure. I'm also not sure which way it goes; it may end up with a landscape orientation. The balance is not quite where I would like it, but for now, it's pleasant, simple nature.

Voices - This quick painting came out of one damn bad day.  I had a swirled background canvas, and staring at it, I started seeing cartoonish faces, so I pulled those all up to the surface and added in more color; this is how it landed. It's a not-pretty representation of the inside of my head on a rough day, conflict voices orbiting an angry center.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Recycling an Old Article: So What Do You Do?

Birds, and one man, in flight
Because the old version of is now dead, and the domain temporarily redirecting here to the Artful Mistakes blog, it's a fine opportunity for me to slap some old work up here. And so I will.

For a time, I wrote the back page article for a magazine for beginning computer users. I tended to have a hard time staying on topic, but the editor gave me a lot of latitude (thanks, Susie), so I often managed to work in what was on my mind if I at least, as in the case here, alluded to computers.

This article (below) was written in the winter of 2005, after I had finished a masters program in creative writing at UMiami and moved across the country to get rained on in Portland, Oregon. Oregon set records for the number of gloomy, gray days records that year, and my quest for employment was slow-going, leaving me to reflect on career choices. Not every point holds true to my current thinking, but I'll let it stand as is, a marker of that time.

What I like about this piece is that it hints at things that I would do in the future. I did, in fact, become a property caretaker, at two different places in New Mexico, in 2006 and then in again in 2012. I did end up taking painting classes, and sailing lessons. My interest in visual art was starting to bubble up a bit, before I was aware of it. And I still have itchy feet, prone to long walks and longer road trips.

I also still very much believe in the importance of dreaming.

So What Do You Do? 

Like the roots of plants growing in the same pot, identity and career are deeply tied and tangled. It's difficult to know where one plant ends and the other begins, even though on the surface, the different leaves and stalks appear distinct.

Here in America, "we are what we do." Politician or police officer, librarian or lawyer, musician or mortician, the answer to what we do (a verb) is usually announced as a noun: "I am a ____." We don't say that we politic and police. If we are trying to be a bit more evasive, we may say we are "in the __ industry." For example, you might say you're "in the film industry" when what you really do is drive a golf cart all over the set relaying messages and taking coffee orders.

These issues are on my mind because I'm unemployed and having an identity crisis. I'm pretty sure the two are related.

Technically, as a writer, I am not unemployed. I am "freelancing." Writers are either employed by a company or self-employed and freelancing. Of course, some writers are financially successful at freelancing. And then there are others, like myself at the moment, who quietly draw from savings and solicit loans to tide them over through lean times. (As the old saying goes, there's a fine line between self-employment and unemployment.)

Many of the efficient and gainfully employed around me have wondered, subtly and not so subtly, enviously and/or disdainfully, exactly how I've been spending my days. Here is the scandalous truth: courtesy of the Information Age, I've been spending an inordinate amount of time playing Internet dress-up with wildly diverse careers and the lives and personalities that might accompany them.

Over the last few months, I have looked into graduate programs in art, art history, library science, psychology, speech pathology, journalism, nursing, communications and business. (In a fit of confusion, I even read up on law school!) I've also pondered certificate programs in massage therapy, computer programming, and driving a semi. I investigated teaching English in Japan, organic farming in Maine, and permaculture in Costa Rica.

Under the idea of cutting expenses, I've looked into caretaker and housesitting gigs. So I've corresponded with a writer in Rhinebeck, NY, a graduate student in Cantonsville, MD, an artist/retreat owner ten miles from nowhere in Mississippi, and a very polite man in Portland, Maine, who didn't realize we were talking about two different Portlands (I live in Oregon, not Maine).

My surfing exploration has netted international opportunities such as volunteering at a yoga studio in Costa Rica, a fellowship in France, and sailing as crew on boats in exotic locales. I've learned surprising new facts, including of the existence of a country named Palau (1000 miles away from Guam, it is a tropical paradise devoid of any poisonous snakes).

Domestically, I've researched rents and yoga studios, universities and job markets in New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, Wilmington, North Carolina, Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, Washington, D.C., and St. Petersburg, Florida through,,, and a whole lot of Googling.
Locally, I've inquired about positions in painting, jewelry making, working with an autistic child, and fruit basket assembly. Although none of those folks responded to my queries, I did interview at a health and wellness medical clinic and an upscale watch and jewelry store. No luck in either case, but I didn't mind because once I was inside, I couldn't see myself happy there for long. (Apparently, neither could they.)

Of course, if you've gotten this far, you may have noticed that the vast majority of this frenetic research has nothing at all to do with what I say I do when people ask. My actual stated career as a writer, excepting sporadic but enthusiastic work on my novel, ranting and researching e-mails, quarterly columns and rare blog entries, has been largely ignored amidst this uproar of possibilities.

So if "we are what we do," what does all this Internet research and dreaming and dress up say about me? That I don't know who I want to be, and I don't want to be who I am? Yes, in part. But in a larger sense, what does it say about our society that most people will no longer have just one career, but several? Amid the end of company loyalty and pension benefits, the Internet offers quicker and broader exchanges of information than ever before. It sets the scene for career switching to blossom as quickly as hothouse flowers.

Consider one of my friends, who went from seven years as a librarian, and then retrained to be a psychologist. Or my cousin the graphic designer who is now studying accounting. Or another friend who went from repairing Persian rugs to working as a computer guru, and is now starting his own business as a photographer. Two other friends both worked as lawyers, and then quit. Neither is sure what is next on the horizon. But then, another friend, a former caregiver and vet tech, is in her second year of law school, and loving it.

Americans, in particular, tend to ask that dreaded and dreadful questions, "So what do you do?" and then slot you into whatever category and status your profession allows. But we are not only that. We are also what we dream about doing even if we never do it. Because in those aspirations and explorations, we are trying to find expression for some part of ourselves that we want to expand and allow to grow.

We want recognition for characteristics not usually associated with our primary profession, or we yearn for something in our lives that the profession doesn't necessarily foster. The librarian realized it was the people he wanted to help, not the information he wanted to find, and so psychology was a reasonable switch for him.

Many people find a livable compromise in deciding that their hobbies outside of work can reflect other facets of their personality. Another friend runs a fashion design company, but I met as a classmate in a poetry class in graduate school. My aunt, who by day deals with bankruptcies, by night is ballroom dancing or quilting or otherwise doing something completely different.

We are not just what we do for work now, but also what we have done before for work, or for fun. Changing jobs does not change who we are. The librarian still lives in the psychologist. But even that history, the total of our actions in and outside of work, with friends, family and loved ones, this is still not all of it. We are also what we have thought about, what we have dreamed about, what we've wanted to do and might (or might never) do in the future. We are also what interests us, by which I mean, what we remember, what moves us, what motivates us, what we admire, what we care about, what makes us curious, what we want, rational or not.

We are not just actions. We are not (only) what we do.

The Internet makes it easy to let our thoughts wander. Wandering helps our dreams evolve, sets the scene for that serendipitous stumble into new connection. Without wandering through caretaking ads, I'd never have heard of Palau or ever corresponded with a literary archivist. Not that it may ever be important. But then again, it might be. Without the dress-up, without the random reading, without asking the questions, without exploring and e-mailing of experts and amateurs, how will we, in the present moment, continue to step forward onto increasingly authentic paths?

Preferred career: cat pillow
And yet: a caution. Many eastern religions stress the importance of being present in the moment, and there is great wisdom in that, in paying attention to precisely what we see and hear and smell and taste, enjoying, or at least noticing, the life we are living right now, rather than always daydreaming or researching an invented future. As much as I try to put myself in other shoes, I only have my current self. No matter how hard I imagine, I can't ever so completely envision my dream life as a dream lawyer or sailor or best selling writer so to determine my next move small with certainty – I can only expand the possibilities of which I am aware. Until I, or you, are in a place or situation or job, with all of its real life complications, until we are in a moment, actually doing something, we can't entirely know how we will feel.

In the end, every choice in life is a gamble on an unknown. We can't know if what we choose will be better. We can only know that if we choose change, it will be different. And even if we choose to stay the same, life changes every moment anyway.

Still, I'm pretty sure the next place I live and the next job I find will be perfect. Everything I've read on the 'net, and everyone I've asked have verified an idyllic world where I am magically transformed into a much, much better person than I am right now. It's all out there, just waiting for me to make the leap into becoming the person I've always dreamed of being.

Whoever that is.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Stonehenge, Treasure Island Style

Many days, usually around sunset, I walk from my home to the southern end of Treasure Island where it ends at a rocky canal.  One day I found someone had spent some time erecting their own mini-Stonehenge, beach-style.  The beach brings out the artist in people.

Chihuly Collection: ooooh, shiny!

A garden of glass, weirdly festive in a Dr. Seuss sort of way.
Gorgeous floral
-themed sculpture
A few weeks back, I did (finally) slide into the Chihuly Collection presented by the Morean Arts Center. Viewing the collection is free for Morean members, but for whatever reason, it took me a while to actually get myself through the door.

The stunning collection contains enormous complicated gardens of glass interspersed with more moderate-sized pieces.  The collection is housed in a warm wood-beamed buildings and gorgeously well-lit, but felt thin on information to me (unless I wanted to buy a book in the gift shop, which I am way too cheap to do).  Perhaps I missed the signs while ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the glass.

The scale of this isn't apparent in the photo, but it takes over a whole room - that boat is the size of a real rowboat. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Traditional Antler Pictures

Merry Christmas from the kitties (who, the other 364 days of the year, are not required to dress up).

"Merry Christmas.  Can I return to napping now?"

"The indignity of the holidays never ends. Ho ho ho."

Friday, November 29, 2013

Bea’s River

Found the following snippet floating in an old file, so played around with it today.  It's a creative response to a The Cowboy Junkies song, Bea's Song (River Song Trilogy: Part ll). Lyrics to the song follow the story snippet. 

For those that were following my recent attempt at re-booting writing, I did finish a draft of the story for the winning story start.  I'll post it here in a bit.  


Bea’s River

I stood by that river in Colorado for a good long while, listening to the rhythmic burble of it: up and over, up and over, up and over the rocks, on the rocks, on the rocks, up and over the rocks. A bird of prey circled overhead.  When he caught the highest loft and disappeared over the scrawny pines, the music ended and I leaned over to untie my hiking boots.

An old Peanuts cartoon has Charlie Brown telling his sister before a big game that he always puts his right sock and shoe on first, and then his left sock and shoe, for luck. His sister pauses for a minute, and then asks, “What kind of luck?” The last panel shows shoeless Charlie Brown staring at his feet.

My first barefoot step into the water (up and over, cold! cold!) forced an inhale, but as my reddening feet settled into the coarse sand at the shore, the shock fell into numb.

Behind me, John swore under his wheezy breath, closing the car door not quite hard enough, so it clicked only once, not twice to latch.

“My keys, you have them?”

I wiggled my toes. They responded, but as from a distance. I felt the gritty texture of sand, but nothing else. Up and over. Up and over. The rocks. The rocks. On the rocks.

I held out my arm and dangled the keys from my hand, rattling them maraca-like.

“Why didn’t you say so?” The clawing crunch of his footsteps approached steadily until he slid slightly at the two-foot drop off near the river’s edge, the stumble marring the beat.

“You’ll turn blue,”

“Color me Neptune,” I said, and turned from the waist to toss him the keys. They flew up and over light slanting through trees, skipping rope with sunbeams.

“You look at the moon and the stars more often then you look into my eyes,” he said

He was right, of course, but I didn't want the conversation or the life he wanted to have. And so I said nothing, cradling our illusions in simple rhythms.


Bea's Song (River Song Trilogy: Part ll)
Speed river at my feet running low and flat
I'm sitting here burning daylight,
Thinking about the past
And that distance out there
Where the earth meets the sky
The slightest move and this river mud
Pulls me further down
John's at my side, but he's sitting on firmer ground

John says I look at the moon and the stars
These days more often than I look into his eyes
And I can't disagree so I don't say nothing
I just stare on past his face at venus rising,
Like a shining speck of hope hanging over the horizon

With each passing year that I sit here
That horizon seems to inch just that much nearer
And all that appears on it seems as clear as spit
But if there's one thing in my life
That these years have taught
It's that you can always see it coming
But you can never stop it

Speed river at my feet running low and flat
I'm sitting here burning daylight,
Thinking about the past
And that distance out there
Where the earth meets the sky
The slightest move and this river mud
Pulls me further down
John's at my side,
But he's not noticing that I'm drowning
The slightest move and this river mud
Pulls me further down
John's at my side,
But he's not noticing that I'm drowning

Friday, November 22, 2013

Catch Up

A month evaporated quickly, thanks in part to a new part-time job at an art museum.

In some ways, working at a museum is like working anywhere else.  The server is sometimes slow, the new database quirky, free food brings everyone out to the reception desk, and parking can be tough some days.

And in some ways, working at a museum is totally different. For instance, I can take a 5 minute break and run downstairs to stare at a Georgia O'Keefe painting if I feel like it.  I get to peek into rooms and see the exhibits going up.

Plus, the art by the copy machine beats the heck out of that at any other office I've worked: an enormous Impressionist oil painting of rocking chairs, complete with fancy gold frame.

Unable to get a decent photo of it (light streaming through the window left it dark and sickly yellow) I had a little fun photo editing.

In my head, the copier station now looks like this:

Disco pink photocopying!  Get your glitter on, and I'll see you by the rocking chairs.

In other news, I acquired a bag full of golf tees from a museum fundraiser that I'm trying to turn into an art project.  So far, no substantial progress.  Suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Bird of Prey

acrylic on canvas
11" x 14"
Another new painting...this one grew out of a random swirls started last week that, upon reflection, ended up looked like eyes. I dug around for bird photos after that, and found a face that fit my start.

Our last class was made more festive by the addition of cookies - thanks Marylee!

Thursday, October 10, 2013


9" x 12"
acrylic on canvas

8" x 8"
acrylic on canvas
I dropped off two canvases today at the Morean Arts Center, with the hope that they'll make it into Skulls & Skeletons student retail show that they're putting on in conjunction with Fork & Cork Café. If my skulls make they cut, then they'll be for sale at the cafe for a couple of weeks (and if not, well, I still had a great time making them - time well spent).

These paintings are notable in that they are the first that I've ever actually varnished.  I'm digging the shine that brings out the colors!

UPDATE: Both paintings will be on view at the mini-exhibition from October 21st through November 26th. Neat!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Stained Glass Forest

Another new abstract.  I've been in a huge rut of frustration with painting recently, of the, what's-the-point, skill-less hack variety, and so this painting was a struggle.

It started out as a blank canvas with a light blue base last week in class. Demoralized by a particularly unsuccessful portrait attempt the previous week, I had opted for working on a relaxing abstract.

The painting turned into a swirl of motion, but with nothing appealing or cohesive, a mish-mash of energy and unfortunate colors. Some days it just doesn't come together. I went home when I realized my mother gave me most of my paints, and I would no longer be receiving the fancy paints from Mom on Christmas and my birthday.

On the way out of class, I accidentally-on-purpose dropped the painting in a puddle and then swished it around a bit, with the idea that either drip art would make it better, or dirt would add texture, or really, anything would be an improvement.  But the paint mostly just stuck there, still lifeless and now under a sheen of dirty water.

Once I got it home, I took the sink sprayer to it.  God love good water pressure.  Sections of it peeled up, others flaked away. Amazingly, that actually made it somewhat better.

I put it aside and ignored it for another week.  This week, I dragged it back into class, and started layering in the lined framework,and washes of color over places that were flaked back down to white canvas, and otherwise rearranging things a great deal.  I turned it around and around, and have decided that this way is up (partly because if I turn it the other way, I see an enormous duck).

I built a story line of sorts for it, involving a birch trees and a cave with pools of water and hidden jewels, some kind of ancient adventure, as seen through a window from afar.  And with that, I can find enough affection for it to, at least, keep it out of puddles.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Thanks for Your Votes!

Voting results are in now for the Get Me Back to My Writing Desk Survey!

THANK YOU! A huge thank you to everyone who participated by reading and voting. Your vote helps nurture the feeling there are projects to work on and that creativity does matter, a feeling well-needed after a difficult year.Thank you for responding with curiosity, smarts, compassion and humor.

(click here to review the blurbs)
1 Chloe - 4 votes
2 Harry2 votes
3 Glory - 4 votes
4 Anne - 4 votes
5 JP - 5 votes
6 Ellie - 0 votes
7 Meg - 1 vote
8 Maddy - 0 votes
9 Julie - 1 votes
10 Paul's Mother - 3 votes
11 Jack - 0 votes
12 Diana - 4 votes
13 Ivy - 2 votes
14 Hattie - 2 votes

And the winner is:  Option #5 - John Paul (JP)
When I saw the groom with a black eye and the bride with an 8-month belly draped in lavender sequins and carrying the head of an alligator costume, I knew this was going to be my kind of wedding.
The winner, oddly enough, is one of the most recent starts I've created, and the one that I have the least amount of information on in my own head so far.  So thank you for choosing the character that is a fresh exploration, and one where my sometimes acerbic humor is likely to find expression. While I do have a few pages on this story, I suspect that I'll be taking it in a different direction than those pages currently detail. 

Chloe, Glory, Anne and Diana tied for second - and so what is next on the agenda could be more complicated question (and not one that currently needs to be addressed).  It was encouraging to see that all but three blurbs got at least one vote, that there was some kernel of interest be activated. Most who voted voted for several stories.  

Jack and Meg, who between them only collected 1 vote, are the two oldest stories floating around (the two that got me into graduate school, although I never considered them finished so much as abandoned).  I am relieved to have excuse to let them gently rest permanently. While I'm fond the characters - characters are children in a way, and I have fondness even of the less appealing ones - Jack and Meg have somewhat worn-out situations and making those interesting would have been an arduous challenge for rusty writing skills. Maddy and Ellie, the other zero votes, were both part of multiple point of view exercises, and were, in each case, the least strong voices in the exercise in my mind - and apparently the voting audience's as well.

Voting on creative elements doesn't live in a vacuum, of course, and I learned a little bit about folks' reading tastes - those that opt for humor and romance (including G's entertaining comments on those that sounded "porny" on FB) while others preferred a darker or more reflective tone.  Several people were irritated by the use of present tense, so stylistic elements clearly were in play even in such small snippets.

It's worth noting that I don't intend to write the Great American Novel. I'm not looking to alter the course of history and create a new world philosophy.  Rather, I intend to tell a story and let some characters explore. Obviously, I've got my own set of themes and tics that tend to reappear in one form or another, which I suspect most readers have already intuited in this blog well before the fictional parade of characters marched by.

Thanks again for reading.

Story Prompt: What if a door-to-door salesman
was a 2-foot tall white bird? 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

New Abstract: Geometric Rain

A relaxing day playing with a new abstract.

Current title is Geometric Rain, but that (and the painting) may change - as usual, I'm not sure if it's done yet.

I am sure it was a fun way to spend the day.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Voting Now Open: Choose the Story to Be Finished

Long, long ago, I went to graduate school, and while there and sporadically afterwards, I started stories.  I have the first draft of, well, a lot of stories, and the final draft of none. 

In sorting through story snippets, I get overwhelmed by which one has any intrinsic interest, and end up running away from all of them.  

So I'm asking for a vote.  For those brave souls that can face it, read through the first paragraph of the following possibilities,and vote for the paragraph that would most inspire you to read a second paragraph. Whichever one gets the most votes (possibly any, given the tininess of Artful Mistakes' readership and odds of actual participation) will merit a fresh literary attack. Any other comments also welcome.  

Vote early, vote often!

Option #1 - Chloe
When Chloe pulled the car off to the shoulder of the road, and she could see the man’s face more clearly, she started having second thoughts.  From seventy miles per hour, he appeared as a scrawny teenager.  But as he grew ever closer to her, he looked like an ex-addict, ex-con, current axe-murderer in his early thirties, all sharp elbows clanking around a skeletal frame, tangled black hair too long to be tame and too short to be pulled back, and skin tanned and weathered from long hours outside burying the bodies. Tall and lanky, the muscles in his arms weren't bulging biceps but sinewy lean, taunt under his faded lime green t-shirt.

Option #2 - Harry
Harry wakes with a start, swatting and missing the fly that has landed on his stomach.  Blinking widely a few times, he leans forward in his beach chair and stares blankly out at the ocean, neither seeing the sunset sky nor hearing the rushes of wind and tide.  At the tip of his memory are the remains of his dream, something about playing as a child in a hotel pool he visited with his mother at his cousin Deanna’s wedding.  In real life, Deanna has been dead for ten years, besides which, she never married, but in the dream, her invented daughter was splashing in the shallow end of the pool.  He kept tossing beach balls at the daughter, but they never landed close enough to her to float into her tiny grasp.  As he sits by the ocean, he instead smells chlorine and cement and the floral candy scent of his mother’s hand lotion.  He hadn't thought about Deanna in years.  They had never been close.  She died in a car accident when she was 51.  Harry blinks again, closing his eyes, trying to shake her death and his mother’s smell loose from his mind. He breathes in the salt air.  Deanna was awfully young to die.  But at least she didn't have to grow old alone.  And she would have been alone. She was ugly as an old wooden shoe as a grown woman.

Option #3 - Glory
Her second husband, Robert, was a boob man, obsessed with the glories of mammary glands, and convinced of his own expertise in detecting the real from saline.  He claimed he could tell saline from silicon as long he could “give them lovely lasses a wee squeeze.”  When he drank, he turned into an Irish caricature.  However, when sober, his Tennessee accent gave Glory a weak feeling near her jawline, a loosening of skin and tension that for some time allowed her to ignore what he actually said and focus solely on the smooth waves of tone.

Option #4 - Anne
Each time I move, the first piece of mail I receive is from the Academy.  With their endowment, they can afford to send an endless stream of postcards and announcements.  Despite the fact that I never give them my new address, they are diligent there in Alumni Relations, and always manage to update my file.  Why, I’m not sure, as my lifetime contribution totals fifty cents.  I sent that one check the year after I withdrew, just so they would know it wasn't just an oversight, an accident, that it’s not that I was too busy or too broke (although those were true too).  But I do always read the Class Notes in the magazine, about the awards and the weddings and children, the charity work and the trips to lush islands, the art openings and the advanced degrees.  I can picture faces, some fondly, all now over twenty years past.  But I've learned to stop memory from going beyond those high school years with those people.  For a while, it seemed fate pushed connections upon me, the way Tim turned up in the most unlikely of places, the years Lorna and I talked over our history, the way my mother still dropped the prestigious school name at the Garden Club, the way the magazine always managed to find me.  But fate had nothing to do with it.  Some signs are misleading. Some signs point to places you can never go.

Option #5 - John Paul (JP)
When I saw the groom with a black eye and the bride with an 8-month belly draped in lavender sequins and carrying the head of an alligator costume, I knew this was going to be my kind of wedding.

Option #6 - Ellie
Ellie walks in a broad circle around the old man, surreptitiously noting the even rise and fall of his chest under the terrycloth robe.  For the last hour, she has been sitting on the beach several yards behind him with her sweatshirt tucked under her as a makeshift beach blanket.  She wiggled her lilac-painted toenails in the sand while writing in the spiral notebook that serves as her journal.  The ink of the pen scraped and caught on the paper as she poured out her words, writing the note she now carries, folded in triangular eighths, in her left hand.

Option #7 - Meg
Hiding from Gary in the women's restroom at Miami International Airport, I stare at my face in the mirror and stick out my tongue.  My sunburn glows a stunning skin-stretching, two-days-tourist red, closely matching the shade of my outstretched tongue.  Against the stainless steel of sinks and stalls and mirrors around me, I am like a canned tomato – pulsing with red juices, trapped among metal. The remains of mascara settle into tiny wrinkles under my eyes, tracing maps to new territories of age. I wonder if I’ll still stick out my tongue when I’m 40.  Turning 30 ten months ago obviously didn’t stop it. My immortality evaporated in a poof of smoke, but there’s my tongue, still lolling in the air, stained red by a cherry-flavored Tootsie Pop.

Option #8 - Maddy
Maddy's father never hired that tree company again, although perhaps that was because there were so few trees left in the backyard by then that he could trim the remaining bedraggled twigs himself.  After the big elm came down, killed by a neighborhood resurgence of Dutch Elm disease, the backyard hosted only small squat trees, angry trolls.  Still, for months afterward, Maddy found herself looking for the Collins Brothers Tree Care white van around the neighborhood, began noting the few remaining infected elms to see if Tim and Mitch Collins would be tending them.  She never saw them though.  Shortly after they dragged away the stump of the elm, she heard her father complaining at a barbecue, and she wondered if he’d put a word-of-mouth hex on the Collins’ business.  Or maybe the elms took them elsewhere.  There was no way of knowing.  Ten years later, she looked for Collins Brothers in the telephone book under Gardeners, Trees, Trimming, everything she could think of, but they were gone by then.  Maybe they were long gone; she would never know.

Option #9 - Julie
Sitting at the hotel bar of the Westin in Minneapolis, Julie pointed her camera up at the sweeping shadows formed by lighting fixtures in the cavernous ceiling above, then swiveled her view down to zoom in on Steve's left eye, green, bloodshot, observing her.  She did not hit the shutter button, but moved the camera away from the hand rising up to block the shot.

Option #10 - Paul's Mother
Given that the incident occurred off the grounds of the school, Paul’s mother felt sure they couldn't very well suspend her son. She had already talked that nincompoop sheriff Earl Wiggins out of an arson charge – twelve year olds couldn't very well be held accountable for acting out a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. It wasn't as if Paul and Jack intended to burn down Morgan’s garage. Still, George Templeton, Dean of Students, known as Curious George by his students, could make things unpleasant for Paul. Templeton had been curt with her on the phone, requiring a meeting rather than being sensible and letting the whole silly fire cool down and blow away like the ashes of Morgan’s decrepit old shed. Templeton had an unreasonable streak – she saw that now.

Option #11 - Jack
Jack pushes open the glass door of Jay’s Liquor Warehouse and then hurries to pull it closed behind him. The frigid air that followed him inside swirls and dissolves into the comfort of indoors.  He breathes in the musty smell of wood crates, stale wine, and the ammonia used to clean the floors and smiles at the familiar odor with the warmth he’d greet an old friend.  In his top dresser drawer at home -- along with a frayed leather wallet, spare change, the toothpick holder his daughter gave him when he quit smoking, a ticket stub from the Uptown and his great grandfather’s pocket watch -- seven AA year medallions rattle each time he opens the drawer to get a fresh pair of socks.  If he walks out of Jay’s right now, he can claim his eighth medallion on April 3rd.

Option #12 - Diana
In German, the moon is male and the sun is female, or so Carlos tells me.  Carlos could tell me the sun implodes every evening and leaves a plate-like flat disc known as the moon as a placeholder until the sun regenerates like a phoenix -- and I would believe him.  Or rather, I would continue to stand there, doe-eyed, lapping up the rumbling cadence of his voice and noting the length of the lashes around his dark eyes.  Lust makes me stupid.

Option #13 - Ivy
Ivy sat on the edge of the four-poster bed, an antique reproduction blown up to king size splendor, and idly swung her feet in an uneven rhythm, bouncing them off the well-padded mattress.  She surveyed the room carefully, checking for any last minute details she might have overlooked.  She worried that somehow the inanimate objects in the room were absorbing her intentions, and would betray her in the end, yielding the truth to the first person that asked.

Option #14 - Hattie
I did not go to my mother’s house, my childhood home on a quiet suburban street in Maryland, with the intention of stealing her most prized possession.  When I went to see Mom, I intended to do what I also did: store the rest of my belongings, boxed once again, in the cellar, next to the furnace and the archaeological remains of my and my brothers’ childhood -- old toys and drawings, seashells from beach trips, pine cones from the backyard, malformed art projects of clay and Popsicle sticks, a plastic ukulele with one string.

Completely unrelated photo of raccoons at the beach.