First Friday Art Talk- The Story Behind the Painting

This is the painting I wake up to in the morning and go to bed to at night.  It brings me a sense of peace and order when I look at it.

Why did I paint this?

The migration of birds fascinates me: What inspires them to leave?  How do they navigate their journey?  How can their tiny bodies withstand travel of thousands of miles of such rigorous travel?  Then there’s nature- always an inspiration.

In this painting with a base of sponged, brushed, and stenciled acrylic on a 12 x 12” dimensional artboard,  we look down on a flight of white birds over forest.  Stenciled ferns are below the abstracted trees.  The symbol of a river is collaged on the upper left quadrant and the collaged 4 negative triangles in the lower left quadrant symbolize direction.  Most of my collage papers are made up of “failed prints.”I bless my failures as they never fail to add the perfect touch elsewhere.  Rain is represented in the upper right quadrant by stamping a painted piece of corrugated cardboard.

To add a little sparkle I added a bit of gold leaf at the top. A stamped Asian symbol on the lower right quadrant adds a zen quality to the piece. 

I took a larger cradled artboard, flipped it over, and painted it black.  Then I mounted the painting inside of it to add a dimensional frame. This is an intuitive painting meaning I paint by what inspiration shows up at the time.  The color palette was inspired by another artist’s work and then I tweaked it to make it my own.

Even when I can’t travel, I look at this painting and I can go somewhere else.  I’m so glad no one purchased this at my last studio sale. It is called Spring Migration.

Elizabeth Gilbert and the Future of Hope

I have been on crutches for over two months now from a serious knee injury I have mentioned in previous posts. Ten days ago I was given the green light from my doctor to ditch the crutches and begin weight-bearing around the house.  Sadly, after 3 days the pain returned.  Instantly I went from hope to a state of despair.  How much longer will I have to endure this?

By “chance” I tuned into an episode of the OnBeing podcast called the “Future of Hope” an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, who happens to be one of my heroes.  During the interview by Pico Iyer, Gilbert speaks of how she navigated the pandemic and also the death of her life partner, Rayya from cancer.  Here are two excerpts from that interview which I needed to hear…

“if there is one thing that I, if I had the chance to do it over again, could’ve done differently, would’ve been to walk into it in a stance of surrender — arms collapsed, no clipboard, no agenda, no cherished outcome — and to have almost gone limp into it, which is not the same thing as hopelessness, but it is a very powerful stance to take in the wake of something that is bigger than you are.”

“And a friend of mine gave me a tip: to lower my standards of gratitude, to lower the bar and to catch the low-hanging fruit so that it’s not — it doesn’t have to be these huge, epic, grandiose gratitudes. The more physical they are, the more I felt it in my body. My gratitude for these slippers that I have that have an insole that you can put in the microwave and you can warm up your feet, that’s on my gratitude list almost every day. And I feel it neurologically. Even when I say it, I remember how comfortable those slippers feel, and remembering that doesn’t necessarily send me into despair over the state of the world, and it starts to kind of rewire my brain.”

Such good advice in tough times be it a pandemic, death of a loved one, or an injured knee.

Surrender

Gratitude

Every day I have to relearn those lessons.

I highly recommend listening to this episode.

Continue reading “Elizabeth Gilbert and the Future of Hope”

Wisdom From the Recesses of a Cluttered Desk

My old writing desk needed a good sort, a good project for a chilly autumn day.  Amazing what you can learn from this exercise. While cleaning out the little cubbies I came across some scribbled bits of wisdom I recorded here and there from years ago. I thought I’d share some…

  • Sometimes the only clear way forward is looking backward.  Unknown
  • Freedom is what you do with what’s happened to you.  Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Bloom where you’re planted. St. Francis de Sales
  • We don’t have to live great lives, we just have to understand and survive the ones we’ve got- Andre Dubu
  • Above all, have fun- Julia Child

This is something I wrote a year ago on a loose slip of paper. I have no recollection of doing so…

If I were a brick in a hearth I wouldn’t have to wake up and wonder what the meaning of life was day after day.  I would know that I had a valuable part to play in the structure of things, surrounded by other bricks, joined by latticed gray mortar.  There I would remain day after day, year after year, warmed by the woodstove in winter, giving back my heat to the home.

I would watch the comings and goings of family, the bustle in the kitchen, cooking of meals, washing of dishes, the banter of daily life, the barking of the dog, the scamper of kittens.

But freedom would be wanting from my determined place on a wall

So I am not a brick in a hearth

Just a human trying to find her way.

Bringing Back the Music

After 1 ½ years of silence due to the pandemic, music concerts that were canceled are returning so when a friend said “Hey, I have 2 extra tickets to a Jackson Brown/ James Taylor concert -want to go?  Instantly I said “YES!” despite the fact the tickets were almost $140, it was at the huge Moda Center in Portland (I usually avoid large venues), and I would have to attend in a wheelchair due to my knee injury.  Sometimes you just have to seize the moment and go, letting the universe work out the details.  So on a rainy night in October, off the three of us went.

It only took about two chords of “Running on Empty” on the piano and I was transported back to a much younger me, a college student in the mid-1970s in that living room, that turntable, my friends, a more hopeful era infused in musical talent.  Two of my favorite musicians at that time were Jackson Brown and James Taylor, their vinyl albums well worn with use.  Looking back it was a time when I had the world at my feet- the music of the time making it all the more exciting.

I don’t know where the world went wrong since then.  We were the generation of change, peace, and environmental awareness.  I hardly recognize the country I live in now.  Still in that massive venue, thousands of us masked gray-haired Boomers let the music of these great musicians bring us back, and boy did they put on a show, visibly grateful to be doing so.  “In My Mind I’m Going to Carolina, For a Dancer”, all my favorites. Brown and Taylor sounded just as good as they did 45 years ago.

The view from ADA seating

Maybe it’s my imagination or I’m suffering the prejudice of aging but I thought the music of the 60s & 70s was just the best.  Maybe every generation feels their music was but I’ve noticed the younger set actively appreciating this same music.

The attendees of my deep water exercise class at the local pool are all aging boomers. We all look quite inauspicious old gals on the surface but we have colorful histories as young women. The class before Halloween we all “dressed up.”  Our Purple Witch teacher had on a playlist of oldies including “Monster Mash” and other crazy music from our era. As we swished and kicked, we sang and shouted to the music trying to guess the title or the artist of the music to win power bars.  “The Monkeys, Sly and the Family Stone, Loving Spoonful” we yelled out. Memories let loose.  The lifeguards looked on with disbelief at all us old birds having such a good time and one of them took pictures.  (At this age who cares about what people think!)

Music has always saved me but in the last few years, it has been such a refuge.  Turn down the news and turn up the tunes I say.  Welcome back, musicians.  Thanks for making the world a brighter place.

The Magic of Synchronicity

“…when you’re on the right path, the universe winks and nods at you from time to time, to let you know. Once you start noticing these little cosmic cairns, once you understand that you’re on a path at all, you’ll begin to see them everywhere.”

From an article on Synchronicity Psycology Today

I’ve had times when my world is a muddle, guidance will appear in unexpected ways – something I read, hear in an interview, a conversation with a stranger.  These incidents usually occur in clusters when I have let go of fear and lean into trust.  Often I’ve experienced them while traveling alone and am literally lost .  

Such a state happened to me recently when I accepted my knee injury, framing it in a more positive light.  Before a concert, my friends and I were out in NE Portland at a little eatery.  The server, a young man took one look at me on my crutches and my imposing exoskeleton of a knee brace and said, “ Oh, it’s going to get better.  You are going to get through this.”  I said “really? You’ve had an injury like this before?” He proceeded to tell me about the broken femur and broken wrist he sustained while snowboarding a few years back.  I was almost in tears.  His words were like balm for my soul.

Later as one of my friends pushed me in my wheelchair in a very crowded line to get into the concert venue (James Taylor and Jackson Brown!) A woman with her husband said to me “Sweetie, you go right ahead of us.”  I replied, “You make me feel like a queen!”  The woman replied, “ You are a queen.  Own it, honey!”  By the way, it was a faboulous concert- but more on that in another post.

The following day, a dear friend I hadn’t heard from called me out of the blue and gave me a good dose of Jewish mothering wrapped up in a pep talk. , “Listen, you are going to get through this. You are a strong woman and you will find your way.” Then she sent me her comprehensive favorite movie list for streaming.

Now to some this would be a series of unrleated events but not so to me. I had to let go in order to open myself to what I needed- a good dose of mothering and encouragement to get me unstuck. Call it God, call it the universe that helps one along when they are lost. Sometimes the cairns appear in the mist to mark the way forward.

photo by Deb Broocks

Grey Zone

There is a space

Between endings and beginnings

A quiet valley

Full of swirling grey mist

All sense of direction

Lost

Be still

In this protected place

Rather than stumble in confusion

Let clarity present itself.

Listen

When the compass needle turns within

And the fog rises slowly

This is the time of departure

Cairns marking the way on the immerging landscape

The start of a new journey

poem and artwork by the author

Notes From A Tripod

(Another take on my knee injury a couple posts back…)

The doctor reviews my MRI and informs me it’s a wear injury- a polite way of saying you’re getting old. The cartilage in my knee has worn thin from age and a simple turned ankle on a hike tore the meniscus which led to a stress fracture to the head of my femur.   “Stay off your knee for 4 months, non-weight bearing- crutches.  Watch that left hip.  It shows low bone density.  Don’t gain weight.   We’ll go from there.  No surgery, no easy fixes. See you after the first of the year.” Appointment concludes.  Crabby surgeon departs.  I remain in a state of shock.

What the doctor didn’t tell me is how to cope with this loss, this massive change in my life- no walking and no clear path to recovery, no dangling hope. All he sees is the injury and not the humanity surrounding it.  The quick fix laparoscopic surgery I expected disintegrated into months of recovery with no clear resolution.  My world shrinks from a universe to the size of an orange.  Will I get to walk or hike with my friends again?  Will I ever again see the tips of my cross-country skis cut through sparking snow?

Every day humans are faced with diagnoses, injuries, and other nasty things that upend their lives instantly.  It can be a lonely path to navigate.  Every day you’ve got to stave off the demons and keep on going, reframe your life, lower your expectations.  For me being a highly creative person and very goal-oriented, this is a challenge.  My big native plant garden project? – canceled until further notice.  Travel?  I don’t think so. Grocery shopping, housework?  NO. Cook?- barely.  This is my first major injury in six decades of living.  I am such a beginner

After weeks of flapping my wings against my cage, I’ve had to revise my life.

Focus on what I can do…

Get a new doctor (check)

Write

Draw

Read

Watch movies

Sing

Play guitar

Swim

Ride my bike

Get outside

Clean out some drawers

Breathe

Meditate

  • I have to remember to ask for help (hard).
  • I have to permit myself to pamper myself- hire a housekeeper, get a massage, buy audiobooks, get a therapist. (hard) 
  • Be humble- I just ordered a wheelchair as my back aches from weeks of crutches.
  • I have to allow myself some days of just being pathetic even though I know things could be worse. (easy)

I emerged from the doctor’s office that day feeling my mortality diminished

but still, I felt a pulse

and I had to drive home to beat traffic.

Said the tree to the sky

My limb is broken

I will have to find a new way

To dance with the wind

Artwork and poetry by the author

See my other blog on sustainable living at OneSweetEarth.blog

Does Your Work Matter?

I frequently find myself questioning the worth of my creative endeavors.  It’s like being on a tight rope and then making the mistake of looking down and then falling.  Truly am my own worst critic.

Today I received a gift via Austin Kleon’s newsletter in my inbox to help counter those doubts.  Thank you, Austin for posting these wonderful words of wisdom from Martha Graham…

A story about meeting choreographer Martha Graham for a soda, as told by Agnes de Mille in Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham:

I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be”.

Martha said to me, very quietly: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”

“But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

“No artist is pleased.”

Ok..let’s get on with it then!

The Zen of Whitewater and Black Holes

Behind the fabulous raft trip in my previous post was my knee injury I had sustained last spring on a hike by twisting my ankle on a rock. The “no big deal” turned into months of pain.

My orthopedic surgeon told me not to go.”I’m going “ I told him.  He looked at me sternly and said “be sure you have  someone help you in and out of the raft.”  No worries.  In my mind, my knee was already shot.  Why stay home and be depressed while missing a trip of a lifetime.  Plus, it’s hard to injure yourself by watching the scenery go by in a raft.  Yes, there was that white water kayaking but I am experienced and the guides took care of all the camp chores.  No regrets. ( I did purchase that Life Flight insurance beforehand, though.)

The MRI results came in after the trip- worse than I thought.  I had a stress fracture in the head of my femur and a fully torn medial meniscus in my left knee.  My doctor said he didn’t think he could do anything for me.  WHAT?  “Stay off of it for four months and see me after the first of the year.”  Now I had already been severely impacted for months and this news was devastating.  I thought I’d have laparoscopic surgery and then presto!-be good as new.

Having a serious injury or illness is a humbling experience.  One day you’re fine and the next your life is turned upside down and full of pain. Walks are a thing of the past.  Daily chores seem monumental. Currently, I’m hobbling around on crutches hoping that the new doctor I will see soon is more creative and compassionate than my former one.

I’ve had numerous traumas in my life –  “black holes” I call them, fraught with frightening unknowns. This qualifies as one. Will I get my life back anytime soon? To get out of black holes it helps me to use a whitewater kayaking analogy.  It’s the same skillset I use in a big rapid but it also works to keep me from psychologically tipping over.

  • Gather my confidence.
  • Have on all my safety gear but rather than a helmet, floatation vest, first-aid kit, and a rope bring along friends and family, a journal, meditation, and spirituality.
  • Research the river ahead of time – research the condition.  Don’t rely on the medical profession to explain everything..
  • Keep up my momentum – my boat is more stable than I think.
  • Go with the flow.
  • If I tip over, hang onto my boat and paddle, find an eddy, and rest before getting back in.  It’s hard to be up all the time.
  • Get back in and keep on paddling – hard.

Aging, injury, trauma –  it’s all a wild ride.

Class 3

The sound of big water

I sit upright

pulse quickening

paying full attention with my body

the rapid comes into view

I spot my line

scouting for boulders, whirlpools

obstacles

that could flip my boat

The current grasps me firmly

taking me up, down, up, down

waves splashing over the bow

drenching me with exhilaration

as I paddle with intention

through a chaos of whitewater

knowing if I keep my balance & focus

my kayak will find its way to calm waters

where I turn

look upstream

raise my paddle with both hands

and laugh

On the Lower Salmon River, Idaho

Artwork by the author

Visit my other blog about living sustainably at onesweetearth.blog

Notes on a Wild River

Me enjoying the scenery

The Salmon River in Idaho is the longest free-flowing river in the lower 48.  Its unpolluted waters cut through rocky canyons dotted with white sand beaches, and peppered with exciting rapids and a plethora of wildlife.

Earlier this Sept. my spousal equivalent and I had the privilege of joining other family members to spend 4 nights and 5 days on this lovely river on a fully guided raft trip courtesy of Salmon Raft based in McCall, ID.  A fully guided trip means that a group of lively 20 somethings take care of all your needs- among them navigating the rafts, cooking fabulous meals, doing the dishes, and loading and unloading your gear.  Our crew were champs, always smiling and gracious even after a long day of rowing. I was a raft guide as a young woman one summer in Arctic Alaska so I know how hard a guide can work.

Jack, one of our fearless raft guides

The gear boat went ahead in the morning so when we arrived at our campsite everything was set up including our tents. Our job was to enjoy the view from the rafts, learn about the geology, wildlife, and history from our guides, swim, and fish.  Two small inflatable kayaks called “duckies” were available for the more adventuresome. We are kayakers so paddling these little “sport car kayaks” were a highlight of our trip.

With a knee injury, I had to pass on a hike to a historical cabin and a bit of cliff jumping but I did get to a waterfall close to the river.  We spotted several bands of big horned sheep and a golden eagle overhead. I read the stories of the rocks in the canyons of columnar basalt and serpentine imagining their formation during volcanic time millions of years ago as we floated past. Then the ever changing river was captivating, from placid swirls of current and eddies to raucus rapids. Going through them were like wet bucking bronco rides waves spashing over us as we hung on laughing.

In camp, we read, napped, and enjoyed pleasant conversation during meals and over cards and games of dominoes.  There was no cell phone service. We were blissfully unplugged and relaxed.

Columnar basalt on the river

I so enjoyed the comradery of this trip, the chance to be fully immersed in nature, kayaking through rapids, poking around on the beaches for interesting rocks and treasures, and the opportunity to just BE. It’s a treat to go to sleep to the lullaby of a river and wake to the call of canyon wrens announcing a new day. Why go on a cruise when you can enjoy the magic of a wild river?  I highly recommend it.

a farewell gift I made for our guides

“The Art of Noticing” a Book

Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.  Mary Oliver

I notice small things.  This probably started when I started birding and identifying plants in college.  Little brown birds become wrens, those spikey white flowers in a bog become bog orchids, rocks in a canyon tell stories.

As I slow down and notice things around me, the world becomes less chaotic.  When my cell phone is left behind and the portal to insanity shut off I can sit on the porch step and notice the honey bees probing in the flowers of autumn joy sedum and the variety of clouds in the sky.  Noticing helps me to be a more imaginative writer and artist.

A book, The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker, recently came to my attention via Austin Kleon’s blog.  I checked it out from the library recently and have been impressed by the plethora of unique activities that will get the novice and experienced noticer into prime form.  Enjoy taking a color walk, documenting odd things from a road trip like gas stations, writing a review of manhole covers or fire hydrants, start drawing, write a field guide to the dogs in your neighborhood, write a poem about the items for sale in the check out line of a store, stop talking and inventory what sounds you hear.

If you need help downshifting into observation mode this book has the tools to do so.  Who needs Facebook and Instagram for entertainment when one knows how to notice?  As a new hardback it’s around $15, or check it out from the library as I did.  Everyday life will become full of new adventures.