What? Me Retired?

Last week when a friend asked me if I was making visual art or writing, I caught myself saying, “No, I’m retired.” Even though I haven’t been painting or writing much these days, I haven’t considered myself retired. I’m still busy as a bee and can’t seem to tell you where the days go. Since then I’ve found myself using that word more often, especially when it’s time to get up in the morning and I tell myself, “Oh, there’s plenty of time. After all, you are retired.”

Interestingly, I’ve recently talked to two artist friends my age or a bit older, and they tell me they aren’t making art either. They, like me are simply letting the days unfold before them and are enjoying things they haven’t done in a long while, like sleep in, travel, and not worry about tomorrow.

So I’m beginning to think that maybe I really am retired. I’m taking it easy, working on getting the kinks worked out of my stiff body, and enjoying extra sleep time. It’s time for lots of reading, writing in my journal, and eating foods grown on the lush farms all around me. Virginia Peaches are just coming in and their sweet juiciness is what summer is all about. Our farmer’s market is the place to go early on Saturday mornings if you want to fill your frig with the best veggies. It’s also where I often catch up with friends I haven’t seen in a while.

As a way of testing whether or not I’m retired, I’m taking some time off here and blogging only when I have something important or inspiring to say. Though we’re mostly at home this summer, we’re eyeing a lovely cruise up the New England and Canadian coast, then down the St. Lawrence Seaway in the fall. And who knows what else will present itself? I’m opening up my life and my days by leaning into the breeze and seeing where it takes me. I’m not giving up the visual art and writing ghosts at all. I’m simply allowing my muse the extra time and space she needs to fly.

See you next time! And have a wonderful summer!

Arctic Summer

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I wrote the following poem after spending ten glorious days adrift
north of the Arctic Circle on a cruise in August of 2002.
I won’t be going that far north this time
but am taking a  break in Canada for the next five days.

 

Arctic Summer

No stars fill the night  only clouds gray on gray
soaking in yellow light that fills the sky

From the deck I ponder arctic terns black guillemots
the sea of ice we breach   the ship’s groan and lurch

Evidence of our push through time   the tumble
of white gray and blue we scatter in our wake

Off the bow a polar bear feeds on ring seal
his blood tinged face glows like the moon

As he shuffles and paws the broken body
ivory gulls flutter   wait for scraps of skin and blubber

I go below to my cabin   fall asleep like a bear
cradled in the rhythmic rise and fall of sea and ice

The cold sunlit night slowly slipping
toward dark frozen days

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I’ll be back here on my blog on July 19th with a post about my worst addiction and two book reviews.
If you missed my July 1st newsletter with my Latest, Hottest, Book News, go here to catch up on what’s happening.
I hope you’re enjoying the summer as much as I am.

Wishes For A Mindful New Year!

IMG_0009Once more the year has rolled into its final week. Like everyone else, I anticipate what’s to come as the New Year begins? Who will be our next President? Will the wars in the Middle East spread further and further? And what will our country’s role be in trying to find peace? Will cold weather finally arrive and bring with it snow or freezing rain destroying these tiny gems I photographed on the day after Christmas?

There are also very personal wonderings. How will Bill’s knee replacement surgery go? Will my daughter’s fight with lyme disease finally be over and will she return to perfect health? Will I sell tons of books when my retitled memoir, SCATTERING ASHES, A Memoir of Letting Go, is published on September 20th? Yes, you heard that right, a new title which I think works oh so much better. And yes, it will be available on September 20, 2016.

Every December I choose a word to carry me through the next year, as a reminder of what is most important as I travel down the path I’ve chosen. As this past year has slipped by, I’ve found myself falling back into an old pattern that makes me extremely uncomfortable when I allow it to take over my thoughts.

Its name is Worry. I’m afraid that my predisposition for getting worked up over things has taken over my thought process and kicked mindfulness out the door. As a result, I spend too much time imagining what might happen to me, my family, or the world. I’ve also found myself kicking myself in the butt for mistakes I’ve made in the past and my sometimes pissy behavior.

Worry and Regret are not things I want to  carry around with me. So I’m going back to a word that has never been on my list of New Year Words, but is most important in that it has helped me in the past and will help ease my way through the coming months with a bit of sanity.

If I can bring back being MINDFUL during the next 365 days, I will be very pleased with myself.

I think it will take some work to be present in each and every moment, so it won’t be particularly easy or happen over night. And perhaps it shouldn’t be a New Years Word at all. Maybe it’s a Rest Of My Life Word. But I think all New Year Words do that eventually anyway. Or so I hope.

In the last week, I’ve started rereading, When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodron. It’s one of her greatest, though all of her books are. It certainly is apt as I observe the state of our world right now. This particular book has helped me through some of the worst years of my life. Her encouraging words reach into my heart, helping to release my unease.

I want to be more appreciative of all of the good things, like those beautiful, little daffodils in the photo at the top of this page that don’t usually bloom here in December. Or these funny Halloween pumpkins that turned intoIMG_0006 something otherworldly by the end of November. They seem fossilized. Very out of season, they make me smile when I pass by them on my walks.

Today, I’m trying to be present NOW. It’s all I’ve really got. Those mistakes and bad behaviors I mentioned earlier happened in the past. Why run them through the wringer one more time?

As for the future, it hasn’t happened yet. For right now, I’ll concentrate on typing these words while I listen to robins singing happily outside in leafless trees. Later, on my way to lunch, I’ll notice the fine mist that is falling and how it gently settles on my hair.

What are your reflections on the coming year and what is it you want most to happen?

 

I’ll be taking a break from posting here for the next few weeks
so that I can be present for Bill as he begins recovering from his surgery 
scheduled on January 4th. 
Please send along prayers and healing thoughts.
They are greatly appreciated.

My monthly Newsletter will be published as usual on January 1st,
and is the story of how I became a writer.  Subscribe to it at the top
right hand side of this page to have it delivered to your email address.

I’ll be back here on my blog on January 19th.

Happy New Year to All!

The Necessity Of Water

“Happy is he who is awakened by the cool song of the stream, by a real voice of living nature. Each new day for him has the quality of birth.”
Gaston Bachelard

The South Fork Rivanna River

The South Fork Rivanna River

I’ve always been drawn to the water. Living on Long Island as a kid I was at the beach almost every day during the summer months. My last home there was located on a high tide inlet where, despite my difficult teen years, the presence of the water helped with my constant anxiety. We had a small skimmer with an outboard motor, behind which I learned to waterski. We gathered clams, oysters, and mussels that thrived in the sand, or the rocks along the shore. My youngest brother, Reid, a born naturalist, constantly wore a life preserver before he could swim. He caught tiny crabs and any other creatures he found in tide pools. We filled a glass tank with salt water from the sound and populated it with starfish, barnacles, clams, snails, small fish, and a host of other creatures we caught in our own watery back yard.

When I moved to Vermont after I graduated from high school, I missed the salt air, but there were plenty of lakes, ponds, and streams to jump into. And later here in Virginia I would spend ten years living on the banks of the South Fork Rivanna River. My mother spent most of her last seven years living there with Bill and me. Watching the daily movements and moods of the river, the birds, beavers, and otters kept me from totally losing my mind as I tried to help make Mom’s life as painless as possible. I know it also helped her and Bill as well.

Getting out on the water in my kayak was always a blessing. Alone in the sunshine, I often just drifted along, taking deep breathes. Some mornings found me totally overwhelmed not knowing how to manage my own life while taking care of Mom. I’d simply sit in my tiny yellow boat, head bowed to my lap, crying. Back on land, I felt peaceful, and knew the steps I had to take in order to make things somewhat easier, at least for the moment.

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Last week I heard a fascinating interview with Wallace J. Nichols, author of Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On , or Underwater Can Make You Happier. He proves what I’ve always intuitively known about water, but always thought it was just me … that the activity of our brain actually changes when we are close to or on water. Just listening to waves crash to shore can be a cure-all.

I was reminded of the week I recently spent on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Bill and I stayed in a rental home directly on the sound where I watched a great blue heron fishing each morning. We saw magnificent sunsets in the evening and twice a day, I took my dogs, Sam and Max for an ocean side beach walk, where they explored and rolled in all of the luscious, smelly things that had washed up on the shore. There were no deadlines, no phone calls, no have-to-do-now-things to keep me from just letting go. Without any effort, I slipped into a completely relaxed mode. I took naps. I ate seafood. I read books, and sat on the shore watching the water. I wanted to stay there forever.

It had been several years since our last vacation by the sea and I’d been feeling a pressing need to get to the water where I knew I’d be able to let go and untangle my thoughts and feelings about what was happening in my life. When I returned home, I was a completely new person, full of energy and ready to jump back into life.

Now reading Nichols’ book, I know that being on the water is a basic necessity for everyone, even if it’s only for one day or an hour. Just as our bodies need to rest, we absolutely must allow our brains to switch channels and rest. Nichols shows that soaking in a tub, or swimming in a pool can do the same thing for the brain as the ocean.

We spent 9 months adrift and growing in our mothers’ watery wombs. Without it we wouldn’t be alive. If we don’t continuously hydrate our bodies, we die. Taking time  to be near or in the water is the natural thing to do. Without that we’ll certainly have a much more difficult life.

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I finished up this visual journal piece while I was at the beach and later posted it in my first newsletter. I had painted the pages before I left for the Outer Banks, not knowing that they were illustrating my overwhelming  need to be near the water.

How does water fit into your life?

My next free newsletter will be sent out on November 1st.  To have it automatically delivered to your inbox sign up at the top of the page on the right hand side. Simply enter your first name and email address which always remain private, then click go.  

Getting Back On Track After A Long Hiatus

"Seeing," from my Artist's Journal

“Seeing,” an image from an old journal of mine

For the last three years, I’ve been working on a memoir that I knew, if nothing else, would be the basis of healing a life I sometimes thought was terribly broken. In doing so I left my visual work in painting and collage on the sidelines so that I could concentrate on the writing.

The journals that I’ve been keeping for years became an important part of the writing process that pulled up old memories. As I wrote about my relationship with my mother, and went back into those notebooks I was surprised by the visual journal entries I had made and had an itch to do more of these colorful entries.

But the words I needed for my book flew thick and fast and I had little time to pull out the paint, the glue sticks, and the stack of old magazines and other stuff I needed to work with. Some of those things were still packed away from our move in 2010. It seemed too complicated to go looking for them.

When my memoir went to my copy editor, I decided to start painting again. But the thought of smearing paint on a large canvas was daunting. I was so out of practice, I had no idea where to start.

With the thought of a small visual journal on my mind I began puttering around, looking for the perfect notebook, opening up old jars of acrylic paint that were mostly dried up, and saving bits of interesting pieces of paper.

I began cutting out words and images from worn out books, magazines and junk mail. I bought new paint, retrieved the old hand stamps I’d carved eons ago, with their dried up ink pads. I found a variety of sketch pads that I liked and added some new pens of various colors. I cleared off a good sized section of my work table that was covered with stacks of papers that needed filing and moved the boxes of encaustic paints I’d been working with prior to deciding to write a book, over to the side.

I put out the new paint, the sketchpads, the scissors, and glue sticks. For weeks I just stared at it all, wondering which sketch pad to use and where to start. Suddenly I didn’t like the paint colors I’d bought and whenever I was struck with an idea that got me excited, something came up that needed my attention. Of course those enticing images in my head were swept away in the tide of work I thought I had to attend to before I could allow myself to play.

Desperate and needing help to get started, I signed up for Lisa Sonora’s, on-line video workshop, Dreaming on Paper. Because I am an artist I felt shame for not being able to get going on my own. In my head a smart-ass voice kept asking, “What happened? Did you forget how to make art, dumbhead? That’ll teach you to go off and write a stupid book!”

Turning my practical, structured, and sometimes intolerant left brain switch to off, I watched Lisa’s first video, put on some classical guitar music, sat down at my work table and began. Oh how freeing it was to just smear paint around on the pages of a sketch pad … and get this, at Lisa’s suggestion, I started in the middle of the pad, rather than at the beginning. I began flipping through a few magazines lying around and tore out words that resonated with me. They seemed to come out of nowhere, and the first ones fell together by themselves: Where My Heart Is. From there it was a piece of cake without all the rich, fattening calories. I let it sit for a few days, went back to it and played around some more. I started using my hand stamps and writing whatever came to mind.

And guess what? There it was!

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It is not be the most beautiful or astonishing piece of art I’ve ever put together, but I’m getting back on track. Lisa Sonora’s video series is artful, helpful, and inspiring. Hopefully, I’ll turn this work into a practice giving words and images their due together in journal form.

Have you ever put work aside that you had difficulty getting back to later? What did you do to begin again?