Sunday, January 30, 2011

bird by bird

To take a small gift of ourselves and hand it to the world
takes passion and courage
and hard work and dedication...
and is no easy feat.
I adore Anne Lamott.
She tells it like it is
and does so beautifully
in her book Bird by Bird.
The title comes from a time her father helped her brother work on a report on birds.
His advice was to just tackle it one step at a time or bird by bird.
I now find myself talking to myself when a project or painting seems daunting -
"just do it bird by bird" I will say to myself in an encouraging voice.
This book has so many ideas for writers that work beautifully for artists too.
Here are some favorite parts:
(just insert artist when she says writer)
People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter (or throw paint here and there on the canvas and voila it's gorgeous).  But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated.  I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident.  Not one of them writes elegant first drafts.

Very few writers really know what they are doing until they've done it (doesn't that sound familiar?).  Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled.  They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the snow (love that image) ...The right words and sentences just do not come pouring out like ticker tape most of the time.

Annie Dillard has said that day by day you have to give the work before you all the best stuff you have, not saving up for later projects.  If you give freely, there will always be more.  This is a radical proposition that runs so contrary to human nature, or at least to my nature, that I personally keep trying to find loopholes in it.  But it is only when I go ahead and decide to shoot my literary, creative wad on a daily basis that I get any sense of full presence, of being Zorba the Greek at the keyboard (love this) ... 

You are going to have to give and give and give, or there's no reason for you to be writing.  You have to give from the deepest part of yourself, and you are going to have to go on giving, and the giving is going to have to be its own reward.  There is no cosmic importance to your getting something published, but there is in learning to be a giver (woah this blows me away really!!!).

You simply keep putting down one damn word after the other, as you hear them, as they come to you.  You can either set brick as a laborer or as an artist.  You can make the work a chore, or you can have a good time.  You can do it the way you used to clear the dinner dishes when you were thirteen, or you can do it as a Japanese person would perform a tea ceremony, with a level of concentration and care in which you can lose yourself, as so in which you can find yourself (If only I could remember this).

Sometimes, no matter how how screwed up things seem, I feel like we're all at a wedding.  But you can't just come out and say, We're at a wedding!  Have some cake!  You need to create a world into which we can enter, a world where we can see this...  To participate requires self-discipline and trust and courage, because this business of becoming concsious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?  (that deserves shouting!!!)

"So why does our writing matter, again?"  they ask.
Because of the spirit, I say.  Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation.  They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life:  they feed the soul.  When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourself or life, our buoyancy is restored.  We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping long with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again.  It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea.  You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.  
And to that I say amen and thank you Anne.
So go ahead and be Zorba the Greek of the canvas or whatever floats your boat
and change our hearts and spirits.
I am also reading Steven King's book On Writing for our book club too and he has great ideas I will share later...  
never knew he had such a sense of humor.

Friday, January 28, 2011

hold me fast

I decided it was time to get back in here...
 and to quit procrastinating
and simply create something,
anything will do really...
it was so easy to slip away from creating when 
I cut my finger way last june,
but come on - enough is enough - it is what it is...
it's been way too long creating for just me -
lots of paintings half done wait my attention to be brought to life.
I am constantly creating for my students
 and getting lots of paint time in that way,
but it's not the same.
 so I cleaned up the space -
we'll see how long that lasts...
 love this old mailbox which holds lots of my stash.
 do pencils and brushes and paint and art supplies
just make you weak in the knees?
 if so then you can understand my stash
and no place to store it all!
 I decided to tackle this collage/painting today.
It is cardboard with spackle and papers and stickers
done about 9 months ago - 
maybe it is time for birth...
 it ended up looking like this.
I call it  hold me fast
from Psalm 139.
it reminds me that God is holding me tightly
every day during this grief thing
(and I keep crying because 1/3 of my mom's ashes are arriving in the mail today -
hey she's coming for a visit - that makes me laugh at least)
 these buttons are from her button stash...
 and this pot looks like one she would have made...
and I just adore texture and could get lost in it.
maybe that's a good place for me to be right now.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

a happy birthday toast to Mr. Nick

what a good sport...
high tea with the parents for his birthday celebration.
our favorite 22 year old
still likes to hang with us...
and wanted to spend his early birthday having tea
and scones, and small sandwiches, and sorbet, and crumpets,
and fruit, and meringues, and shortbread,
and on and on and on...
little did we know that the Queen Mary Tea Room
would be filled with feminine frou frou kitsch 
and girls wearing tiaras galore.
he was asked if he wanted to wear a "king" crown for the occasion,
to which he politely declined;
the waitress responded that she hadn't had a male taker yet -
go figure...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

i am the...

i am the...
i am the
hope of winter,
the ugly brown burst forth with life,
the perfumed headiness of spring,
the hope for tomorrow.

i adore these paper whites sprouting in my kitchen.
i am in misty mawn's on-line class
and each week she has a writing assignment 
(this week it is 'i am the...')
along with drawing and painting.
i am so behind
and basically haven't even begun to draw or paint,
(just putting together art lessons for the kiddos
and coping at present)
but that's ok...
i have grace and 
i will begin when i am ready.
there is always hope.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


visited my dad and spent some quality time 
eating chocolate covered frozen bananas
with rainbow sprinkles
in honor of my mom...
one of her favorites.
she loved Balboa Island
and we spent the day savoring it all...
including the ferry across the water
towards the Pacific and Balboa Peninsula.
this little guy knows how to traverse the water in style.
just thought I'd let you see I really am doing OK...
smiles and tears each day
and only one day at a time is required.
a little sun and sand doesn't hurt,
but the airplane carried me back home to the rain,
and you know what?
it is just fine by me -
it's winter after all.

and I got to spend time with the giggly girls 
in art club today...
making doggies
and naming them 
and writing doggy stories.
here is mine.
what a happy little fellow -
gives me hope for the future...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

snow and grief

It snowed last night...
and covered its cold veil over everything...
and reminds me of how I am feeling -
as everything looks different
and the world seems hidden
and colder.
Didn't know what to expect from grief -
I wish so much to talk to my mom about how I am feeling -
she was my 'go to' person for talks.
I think the thing that is bothering me most 
is not being able to hear her reassuring voice -
but I really am doing ok
and I am crying less than I would have expected
and life is carrying me along
and I am even smiling.
Thanks to each of you for lifting me up
with your kind words, thoughts and prayers.
I feel them and they are a part of me.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

a tribute to my mom

My dear, sweet, wonderful mom
passed away unexpectedly on Tuesday
from a torn aorta
and my world has been turned upside down...
so bear with me as I share the last photos of her 
(always with her camera in hand)
and three of the hundreds of poems she left us.
Phyllis Selleck
Absently, I eat dinner.
A candle on the table
glows orange
and outside the window
a moth flutters.
My cat chases the gray wings,
extending his black and brown stripes
as he swats -
claws clicking against the glass pane.

A blaze of clarity
illumines shadows in the room
and in my mind.
There is only this moment -
a window in time -
when nothing is growing older -
not the cat, moth or myself.

The window closes
and the vision ends;
each of us resumes
unfolding, aging, transcending - 
flowing through time.
and she had a sense of humor...

Phyllis Selleck
It's always been like that -
slight irritations -
not important in themselves
but always there, grit
amongst healthy green leaves.

However, thorns
would be worse than sand.
So, if given a choice,
I'd take sand over thorns.
I would not like 
to lie in a bed of roses.

and she freaked me out with this photo of me holding my dog
that she just happened to photoshop for fun...
ha ha you got me mom...

and I just found this poem
which takes my breath away.

 Phyllis Selleck
As I grow older
I discover in the mirror
others in myself:

my mother
in a moment of vulnerability
before she learned to mask the hurts;

plump-cheeked, placid
Grandma Jennie touching me
with round approval;

the child I was 
with wistful look.
I wonder -

will my daughter look in the mirror 
and catch her breath
at the sight of us?

You bet I will mom...
I will miss you more than I can imagine.
I hope you are photographing and putting into words
the glory of your new home.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

last glimpse of the holidays...

last photos of the season...
lights going up in the tree...
 a very clever home-made star from my daughter-in-law...
a sheep pincushion I gave my mom from Bossy's Feltworks...
 and these adorable paper clips (Anthropologie of course)
from my dear husband who knows what I like...
 and the back of them - 
how clever is that?
my two favorite furry rears (dog on left, cat on right) 
putting aside their differences
in the spirit of the season...
 our new favorite decadent potatoes au gratin made with Stilton cheese
 ready to go in the oven...
pretty ugly but oh so delicious.
5 russet potatoes
8 ounces Stilton
1 1/3 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 T butter
Layer 1/3 potatoes, half cheese, 1/3 potatoes, half cheese, finish with potatoes and then pour broth over.  Liberally add salt and pepper to each layer.  Dot with butter.
bake at 350 for 1 hour 40 minutes.  Eat and grin...
and hope for the future with these somewhat ugly beginnings
which will soon sprout white beauties.