I wrote the first poem, just as it describes, after cataract surgery when we were in Adelaide. We had been home a few weeks when the event in the second poem below happened…
See For Me
The day after my husband had eye surgery
He couldn't see things very well.
He loves a little sweet thing for afternoon tea,
So when he asked me if I would go
And look at the little baked item in the cafe window
And tell him what it was, I did.
I returned to the table and told him it was not
A scroll, as he had thought it was,
But it was 'his kind of thing'.
His eyes looked hopeful and he said 'What?'
It is a chocolate chip, salt and hazelnut cookie.
I could tell he was happy being married to
Someone who knew his kind of thing.
It was early in the morning
as I saw the object, pale
and delicate, in the middle
of the kitchen bench.
Gecko skin, familiar
but nonetheless fascinating,
complete with tiny toes.
Cats bring gifts to their owners.
but usually dead...
bird...but I have
And so after 38 years
of marriage to a human
who pays attention,
I have a new treasure
or paint or just admire
as I often do.
The lenses inserted where the clouded cataracts were removed, give his eyes a shiny crystalline appearance. What he sees is wonderful for both of us.
Once upon a time, there was a bricklayer who was an artist. His bricklaying was beautiful, but he wanted to paint pictures too. I met this bricklayer when I tried to get someone to give me quotes for a plan I’d drawn up for laying pavers and bricks around our house. He was the only person polite enough (or brave enough) to return my call and to come and look at the work I needed done.
When we bought our rammed earth house over 20 years ago, the house itself was never quite finished and the grounds around it were in a sad state, having never been landscaped. There were at least four different levels that needed to be joined so that one day, in our dotage, if one of us is in a wheel chair, we can be pushed around the outside without having to negotiate stairs.
Scott, the ‘brickie’, it turned out, was also a painter. Of pictures. I was a member of the Art Society and so we struck up many good conversations during his weeks creating our outdoor space. I made him and his offsider coffees and occasionally a bacon and egg sandwich, and he deftly turned the area into the outdoor space I’d imagined. Sometimes we talked about art, sometimes about plants and other common interests. Over the coming years I became quite a fan of his work and asked him to paint something for me, whatever he wanted as long as it was a landscape, which was his speciality.
Asking an artist to ‘paint me something’, I now know, is a ‘never, never job’. The artist never knows what you would like and so they never contact you. He seemed to sell everything as soon as it was finished and so years later I still had none of his work—except the beautiful patio, of course.
In August this year, the Art Society held its annual Advocate Art Award. Local artists of all levels and disciplines enter their work for sale. It is well supported by both artists and viewing audiences. The week before we headed to Adelaide to see the surgeon for Don’s cataracts and to visit our daughter, I needed to have a painting for her framed (see lemons still life). Scott now has a framing business called Desert Edge, which gives his back and knees a rest from the paving and bricklaying. I went to see him about the framing and while there he showed me the preliminary painting he’d done for this year’s entry to the AAA. It was lovely. While there he told me how busy he’d been with the framing work and really he would have liked another week to finish his entry. This is a frequent artist’s lament.
The following week he rang to say he’d finished framing our daughter’s painting and I could pick it up. On my way there I had to drive by the gallery hosting the Art Award and knew I wouldn’t have another chance to see it before we headed to Adelaide. So I stopped. The very first painting into the exhibition was a beauty, a large one of a tree in our central Australia landscape. Wait…as I reflected on the smaller study he had shown me, I realised this had to be Scott’s. After confirming this with the exhibition catalogue, I couldn’t believe my luck, it had not yet sold! Taking no chances, I turned straight around and went to the desk and told them I wanted to buy it. After the business was sorted the sales person asked if I wanted to place the ‘red dot’ on the painting number, indicating it was sold. I readily accepted–it made the purchase even more memorable. I went back to the gallery, admired my purchase and placed the red dot on number 9, Black Cockatoo Highway. And then I viewed the rest of the show.
When I got to Scott’s shop I casually mentioned, ‘Oh, I stopped to see the Art Award and your painting has sold.’ He looked stunned and thought for a moment and then looked at me and said ‘Did you buy it?” I very quietly said ‘mmmaybe….’ And then he excitedly asked again ‘Did you buy it?’
‘Yes, I bought it.’
He seemed pleased. Phew. I wasn’t sure there for a moment, thinking there might be some horrible satanic secret I was unaware of…if you buy a painting of a tree you will lose a limb or some such nonsense.
I said to him, I had a couple of requests, however…could he collect it because we would be in Adelaide when the show closed, and then could he take however much time he needed and finish it? It looked perfectly finished to me, but this was for him. I would also need him to hang it for me because of its size, to which, he happily agreed, as I hoped he would.
Later that night I awoke in a panic. Where would I hang Black Cockatoo Highway?? Our house doesn’t have many spare walls, being mostly rammed earth and windows. I had one space in a spare room that was sort of large enough but wouldn’t show it to best advantage. All that day I ran around with the tape measure in between packing my bags for Adelaide. Finally a stroke of genius came to me, I would move the hat rack in our entry way and hang it there so it could be viewed the way it deserved.
Once we returned from Adelaide our very handy next door neighbour agreed to move the hat rack for me. I resurrected my interior painting skills and patched, sanded and painted the wall, ready for Scott’s creation. A few days later he brought the finished painting and hung it for me.
Life is such an interesting journey, and the story of how Black Cockatoo Highway came to me warms my heart.
* Today, September 1 is the first day of Spring, also Wattle Day. The golden wattle are in blossom in the southern states but here I have captured our version of green and gold (our national colours), featuring wild budgerigars and the winter’s dried, golden grasses. I’ve been feeling a little poetic lately too…and by the way, a ‘chatter’ is what a large flock of budgies is called!
When Don retired we both needed to do some rearranging of investment/retirement funds. Mine had been paid for by me with my freelance work over the years so Don felt it was fair that I get to choose what to do with it. It didn’t look like we would need it to live on so I chose to invest it in our home, and myself. I had a dream, goal, wish, whatever you want to call it, that one day I could do whatever art I wanted to do, not for pay, but because it fulfilled me. So I chose to invest the money by enlarging our carport shed so that most of it would be my studio…one day. As you may remember it became the ‘shedio’, part shed, part studio.
For years I dabbled with this or that and it seemed I would just never fully ‘own’ the space. Since discovering pastels earlier this year and moving my practise space there, it is seeming more and more like I belong. I love that the floor is raw concrete, which I don’t have to be precious with. And the wall over the storage area has a pin board material installed so I can display inspirational pieces. One day, I really looked at the area, and realised it was kind of a mess, and decided to contemplate how I might reorganise it.
On a cold, rainy morning a few days later, I converted what was a disheveled space wanting some purpose and definition, to a space I could love spending hours in. If you picture me as a long suffering artist with few creature comforts, I’m not that person. I cranked up the classical music, and the heater, and began the transformation. I wondered how it happened that the space had slowly transformed from hopeful to haggard. I think it lacked love. It was created with love and my vision at the time, 11 years ago. But slowly, one pencil, one tube of paint, one discarded canvas at a time it was invaded and the vision was buried, just like my own creative practise had been.
Suddenly, all of that was in the Past and it became easy to sort through the books, materials and distractions, deciding which could stay and which had to be removed. I think one of those sped up videos of the process would have been funny to watch. I went in and out, to the bin to the office and back again. I rummaged the kitchen for just the right dish for drawing pins for the display board and returned things no longer required to their various homes. I just removed everything that wasn’t pastel painting…nearly. I have retained my acrylics for painting because I hope to live a long time yet, and plenty of pastel artists paint with a brush too.
When I was thinking through the plan, a day or so before, I envisioned all the practical rearrangements. As the time drew nearer for me to execute the changes, it suddenly popped into my head to remove all the other artists’ work I had pinned on the cork board for inspiration. Why? I could now replace it with my own work! I was inspiring myself. It is now as if I’ve opened a little gallery with an exhibition of not just works, but a little dream I’ve carried for a long time.
It was quietly thrilling.
In my office I have a little phrase cut out from a magazine that I have had for so many years I don’t even remember how I originally planned to use it . It simply says: ‘your dreams miss you’.
Why is it we seem to have to go to the brink in life to awaken to ourselves? I don’t know anyone who escapes life’s tragedies and is wiser for that lack of experience. We seem to learn the most profound things from those big moments and near misses. But once in a while, if we pay attention, we get a moment of clarity that raises our awareness and appreciation for life, without the suffering.
Life is full of work and things to be done, or avoiding them and living down a rabbit hole—I choose the first one most of the time. By the time I exercise, clean the body, feed our household, do the most necessary of cleaning jobs and get what sleep I can, there is comparatively little discretionary time. And these days one of my joys is thinking about creating things rather than life’s big questions, which if I were going to be able to answer them, I probably would have in my 68 years on this earth. But I haven’t and probably won’t. I think about colour themes, about how to discern value more effectively, and what effects can be achieved on which kind of paper. And about trying to be honest and kind, both of which are challenging endeavours.
Some days I’m lucky enough that my morning walk helps me see a new corner of the environment to enthuse my painting sessions. In between all of the above I keep inspiring myself with new reading, listening and viewing of other artists’ works. One morning I was listening to a podcast interview with Andrew Greig, a Scottish poet and writer. I love a Scottish accent. (Must be genetic as my paternal Grandmother’s family was named Carlisle.) What captivated me was the title of the interview ‘When I’m dead, I will love this.’ He tells a story of running home in the cold and rain from the fish and chip shop, to keep his meal from getting soggy. And he thinks, as clearly as anything, as he is running, how wonderful running and a hot fish and chip meal would be if he was dead. I get it. It left me with shivers and tears on the rims.
We whir around in our complex world full of news stories and disaster and lists of jobs and people to please, when all the time we are doing the small miraculous things that humans do. We are spellbound at sunrises, marvel at nature, rejoice when we find a key we thought we’d lost, are amazed when our children are so much smarter than we were at that age…or kinder than we realised. These things we know. They are right in front of us every single day and we forget to look. We forget to think, ‘when I’m dead, I will love this.’
**This was going to be my last blog post. I had decided…or so I thought, I had nothing left to say. But after thinking it over the last couple of weeks I’ve decided this is the one place in my life I have the most control, where I can make up most of the rules. I even pay to keep the ads off this page so that you all won’t be dogged by those who glean data to try to sell you things. I won’t try to sell you anything. This is just my experience in the world for you to take or leave as you wish. I’m going to hang around for a while.
At long last. I am vindicated for a lifetime of keeping a precautionary stash of pantry goods. That is, I’ve always been ready for a small famine. And now Alice Springs is in lockdown. This is the first we have seen of this (having been away last year in the Southern Ocean at the start of the pandemic) and I can’t help but wonder what the thousands of caravans full of visitors here for the good weather and the free lifestyle are thinking about now!
When we returned from our trip last year, the initial lockdowns and emergency precautions had eased. We were allowed to isolate in our home for two weeks. It was a bit weird but we adjusted. Since then there has been much more weirdness to adjust to. New protocols when entering shops ranging from all kinds of strange sanitising concoctions, to scanning QR codes for better contact tracing. New phone apps to install…some that actually work. We live in interesting times.
Our masks now hang beside our hats and scarves, as if they have always belonged there. The first morning I dressed for my walk in the 4C degree temps, I donned the mask and sunglasses and then tried to open my phone to start a podcast. Why wouldn’t my phone open? Ah, face recognition was not recognising me! Not sure most people who know me would have recognised me for that matter. On the mostly empty golf course walk, I did see a couple of parents walking small children, from a distance, a lone woman walking and another one in the far distance walking her dog. The adults were all wearing masks and I was buoyed that my fellow humans and I were all working together on this thing. Before the pandemic, we only saw face masks being worn by a number of Asian migrants and tourists in the bigger cities, and sometimes in Alice Springs because we get a lot of tourists here. Beyond that, most of us didn’t dream they would become necessary for our health, let alone a fashion statement. I have a collection of them. You can now buy a face mask with just about any kind of design on it you would like. I’m pretty conservative so I go for the simple things with regard to body adornment.
The first day of our lockdown was mostly a repositioning exercise. Given we had only an hour and a half notice, Don had to quickly pack up his desk at the Uni and bring home his work paraphernalia. Being I have spent huge chunks of time at home for many months, I could only speculate if the groceries I had ordered the previous day would arrive the next day, or if the hoards of panicked shoppers would wipe out the shelves—yet again. I scoured the freezer and pantry to loosely plan replacement meals in case the grocery items didn’t appear. Most of them eventually did appear, with a few substitutions and one ‘out of stock’.
For weeks we have had ‘temporarily out of stock’ notices for online shopping, so I have worked around it. Why? Because we have had literally thousands of people pulling their caravans up here from the southern states, where they hoped to enjoy the warmth and relative safety of the Northern Territory. What people don’t realise is, we are not like the southern areas where the shelves can be restocked from the distribution centres within a few hours. It is days, sometimes a week or even two before our shelves are restocked. To be honest, we have enough trouble getting goods at the best of times, and this is a bit beyond that. Which is why, I refer you back to the opening paragraph, and mostly try to keep a stocked pantry and freezer.
Don is on the greens committee for the local golf course. Since he is missing his normal rounds of golf, his version of exercise at the moment is to walk the holes and mark down the location of the valve boxes for watering. Not mentally stimulating but since the golf course has no record of them and they need one, he is doing a good deed and getting his exercise as well. One hour at a time, of course, because that is all we are allowed out for exercise. My exercise is housework and my usual stretches and morning walk. So, nothing different. The afternoons are saved for a bit of rest, reading or movie viewing and some painting. Most recently I’ve been practicing painting lemons. We have a tree full so the reference material is to hand, but it was also a request from a special someone. I’m not doing commissions but I have told a couple of people I will notify them if I do something I think they might find interesting. Commissions give me the heebie-jeebies. For so many years I had to work for others whose agendas were mostly not invested in my self expression. Go figure. So these days I truly work on what makes me happy.
And just like that, on day 2 of our lockdown, it was over. A day early even. We almost settled into it and then there was a new normal. We wear a mask when in public and shopping but no longer have to wear one for exercise out in the open. It is precautionary, we have no community transmitted cases. My phone still doesn’t recognise me, but other than that the whole thing was of little consequence to me personally, and hopefully of good use to the public at large. I do feel for people with small businesses and families, they are the worst hit by these lockdowns. So this morning we went to our local IGA to do the shopping and put some money into the locals who own it. There is always some little thing we can do to help others, even in these unusual circumstances.
I walked an hour to get a bakery item. Well, strictly speaking I only walked 15 minutes for said item because I usually go for a 30-45 minute walk each morning anyway, and the walk to The Bakery only requires about another 15 minutes. But for this particular bakery item I would walk a full hour if necessary. We do have a car but that morning I decided to combine purposes of exercise and getting the object of my confection addiction into one. As it turned out it was more of a sensory experience than I’d planned.
Tired of listening to my usual podcasts I decided to listen to an ebook I bought a while back. Michael Caine’s ‘Blowing the Bloody Doors Off’ was a good choice, interesting, entertaining and you get to hear his great voice as well. Might have been a strong undercurrent message with that title and my mood…
The thermometer read 6C, a see-your-breath nippy morning! I rugged up and took off a bit after 7am before I had a chance to change my mind. On the way out the door I grabbed the bird seed and fed the birds as well. I wondered if there were so many of them because word had spread of my heroic effort to save a young crested pigeon the day before. It had been attacked by a large crow and was traumatised as well as minus a few tail feathers, so for a few hours I watched over it and then when it suddenly came good I opened the box and it flew under the eave on the front verandah and finally off into the warm afternoon. So all his relatives may have come to thank me by eating my seed? Hmmm. Never mind, my heart is warm.
Early morning is a beautiful time of the day in late May. The sun is just coming up and casts long shafts of golden light between the shadows of the trees along the Todd River bed. So I paused often to photograph it for potential painting ideas.
Recently it was Don’s turn to procure our weekly multi-grain sourdough loaf and to get each of us a sweet treat only to find my favourite almond croissant wasn’t available that day. I settled for a piece of his pistachio scroll. Life is torturous at times. I’ve been trying to hold off having the almond beauty to only every few weeks. That way my jeans still fit and it remains a much anticipated treat and doesn’t get old hat. Who wants to eat an old hat, I ask you?
The last time Don was at The Bakery a lady in front of him asked for an almond croissant and then asked if they would shake it so that the sugar and almonds on the top fall off before they put it in the bag. If you were that person, forgive my judgment but what were you thinking??? First of all, the marzipan filling would still mean there was almond and sugar in it, and secondly, couldn’t you do that yourself and save the hurt feelings of the poor baker who had been up since 2am baking such a heavenly treat as would make angels weep? Honestly, is it any wonder there are people like me who embrace their introversion…rhetorical question, does not need answering.
After a small bowl of fruit and yogurt studded with a couple of tablespoons of homemade granola, I carefully removed 1/3 of the croissant to finish my repast. Another third of it was consumed with a cup of tea mid-morning, and the final third was my dessert that evening after a bowl of lentil soup. Left to my own devices, I do live wild and loose.
Note: It appears WordPress has made more ‘improvements’ to their system and this post has behaved very oddly in its assembly, so please let me know if anything is amiss…firstname.lastname@example.org
Many times over the years Don and I have philosophised about golf being a metaphor for life. It is often uncannily so. Lately, I have been thinking of my journey with painting in much the same way.
Some weeks ago I painted a small experimental piece, based on a YouTube lesson I’d watched. As I was finishing it I tossed the pastel in my hand over into the little pile I’d been using and murmured to myself ‘No, no, no, I’m just not getting it’. I turned out the light and that was it for the day. The next morning I came in and looked at it with fresh eyes, expecting to loathe what I’d done, and instead realised I loved it. I had learned a very good lesson. My discouragement had been that my piece didn’t look like the artist’s in the lesson. Silly me, that’s not what I want at all! I want it to look like my style, not hers—and it does! It is not great, the composition is was not wonderful at all, but the ‘look’ of it is a step closer to what I have been dreaming of, and there it was right in front of me. I didn’t recognise it because I was so preoccupied looking for the other artist’s style.
There are many things to learn when one is creating. It is equal parts thrill and frustration. Frank Gehry, the well known architect, described it well:
For me, every day is a new thing. I approach each project with a new insecurity, almost like the first project I ever did. And I get the sweats. I go in and start working, I’m not sure where I’m going. If I knew where I was going I wouldn’t do it.–Frank Gehry
For me it’s boring to repeat the same journey over and over. I too ‘get the sweats’ every time I start a new painting–as if my life depends on its success, which it certainly does not. Such is the standard to which I hold myself, the self flagellating behaviour I have learned, and am trying to unlearn. But once engrossed in the process everything else falls away when I get those colours in my fingers and see where both my conscious mind and intuition wants them to go. Being swept along in that flow is the payoff.
We need to explore our inner depths, solve new problems and gain new insights. Part of that for me has been the very basic task of sourcing supplies. The challenge of living in a remote area with few resources for art supplies has meant that some weeks I spend almost as much time sourcing materials as I do painting. A lack of good paper has been my biggest problem. I can order it and it will be here in two weeks, if I know what to order. Which I don’t. Until very recently, when I had completed enough painting on different surfaces to finally have a preference, I was stumbling around with this one. I watch videos and learn techniques for applying marks to a variety of surfaces. And then I practice. At this point in my learning trajectory it is hard to know if the problem is with my technique, or the surfaces…probably both! I’ve even learned how to apply a rough surface to smooth boards and papers making homemade pastel paper. Now, if the ordered supplies do not show up as scheduled, I won’t go completely without. It’s all part of the process and no doubt will change time and again over the coming years.
I’ve had a couple of worrying breaks in the process while we had more urgent things to attend to in our life. Always I reminded myself I only needed to return to the task for one minute. One break was planned–the pastel dust was a problem. I was trying to paint in the office with carpet on the floor–light carpet at that! So I made the decision to move out to the little space that is our ‘shedio’. Two thirds of the space is my studio and one third is Don’s tool shed–so christened ‘shedio’. It is not a glamorous space, but it is very practical and not unpleasant, having been renovated about ten years ago. It is surprising how far that journey is, however–those ten steps between the front door and the shedio door. And because of break-ins in the town I have to always lock the front door behind me when I’m in the shedio, and likewise the shedio door if I come into the house for a break. That transition happened a few weeks ago now and along with the new car, I’m starting to feel comfort with both situations. Always in the back of my mind, though, is the thought that if I feel pressured or lost, I only have to be there for one minute…no matter the result.
We don’t know what we don’t know. With every painting I am finding new problems to solve. Somehow the information I need to keep moving ahead comes into my life and I move forward one baby step at a time.
Sweaty hands, learning, solving problems, making preparations, small victories, crappy results, baby steps…how is art anything but a metaphor on Life?
It’s been a busy few weeks since I last checked in with you, promising to report more on my revived creative journey. In those weeks our 18 year old car needed some repair. Covid conditions of shipping to remote places like ours proved to make that a protracted process. It was our only car so we hired a rental for a couple of weeks. When it looked like that wasn’t going to be enough, we quickly agreed, we deserved a new car. With the money we saved from the lack of travel over the last year, happily, we could afford it. And as it turns out, so can a lot of other people. The car dealer says they are selling cars as fast as they can get them into town! It’s interesting to see what areas of the economy are leaping ahead, while others languish behind.
Fortunately, our modest needs were only for a town car that was small enough to fit into most of the parking spaces at the grocery and other places we frequent. But after sitting in the smallest car we thought we would buy, the salesman said he had one that was a step up, both in comfort and size if we wanted to sit in it for comparison—a tried and true sales tactic, I’m certain. This salesman was very laid back and applied no pressure whatever, but he didn’t have to. The minute I sat in the driver’s seat of the Corolla it was evident the comfort and amenities were better. Since we are of an age which means it may possibly be our last automotive purchase while we are able to drive, we decided to treat ourselves.
Let me digress a bit. The aforementioned 18 year old Barina (Holden/General Motors) was purchased new when our daughter was testing to get a driving license. The agreement was that we would purchase it, in all its spearmint-metallic-green-glory, and that when she decided to purchase a car, she could buy it from us, knowing she would have a car that was looked after and that she could afford. There were a few errors in judgement on her part (and an obvious one in ours!) that meant the car had a couple of dings in it, which we had deemed a fools errand to repair, given that many people will open their doors and not care if they dent the car next to them. So the dings stayed.
Then one night our daughter drove the car to a party. Alice can be a rough ole town at times. Lately we have been all too aware of it as our house, and many others, have had attempted break-ins. On this particular night about 15 years ago, a young woman set her sites on revenge when she thought Allison was flirting with her ex-boyfriend. Seeing Allison get out of the mint green chariot was all the inspiration she needed. Allison returned to the car after only dropping off a friend and visiting for few minutes to discover the rear windscreen wiper wobbling at a very odd angle, the radio antennae broken off and the word ‘slut’ keyed into the relatively new paint. We knew who it was because as most criminals do, she had to brag about her handiwork to someone, and that someone was friends with one of Allison’s friends and by the next morning it had gotten back to us. But we couldn’t prove it. So we paid for the antennae and the windscreen wiper to be replaced but we were loath to repair the paintwork, for obvious reasons. Allison’s detractor was still in town and she had friends.
When Allison decided to buy a car, it was not the dinged up Barina she longed for, but a flashy, used silver Honda, one of the early hybrid cars. Right thinking, but wrong car and wrong time of her life to make that expensive decision. Live and learn, right? We have generally let her make these decisions on her own with some guidance but knowing whatever we tell her she must do, she would do the opposite back then.
So, for the ensuing 15 years we have driven the small mint green car, emblazoned with ‘Slut’ on the side. Fortunately you could only read the word when the car was very clean. Living in Alice Springs, a car is rarely that clean. Dust storms see to that. I have always felt it was good penance, for what I wasn’t sure, to have to drive the slutmobile around town for all to see. No one would claim I was living beyond my means, nor that I had exquisite taste, and I never had to worry about someone stealing it or parking it where someone would ding the paint! The years caused the paint to chalk and peel and the poor little thing looked like it was peeling from a bad case of sunburn. But when we bought the Corolla, they actually paid us $1000 for the 18 year old Barina, that was clean on the inside, generally in good driving condition and had only 54,000 kilometres on the clock! It will have a new life with someone else and served us well.
My deepest anxieties have been realised, however, learning to drive a brand new car with all the advances that the automotive industry has made in the last 18 years, not to mention that it is about six inches wider and about 20 inches longer than the old car. It really adds a layer of anxiety to my days that I could do without.
Take the day recently, when I went to the grocery store…
In my relatively calm and controlled life there is not much that scares me more than a big Huntsman spider in the house or a deadly Eastern Brown snake in the house both which I have experienced…unless it is either species in the CAR! That morning as I pulled into the parking space (having backed in and was so proud of myself) I looked toward the passenger window and crawling down the outside of the window was a large huntsman spider the size of the palm of my hand. I tried to get out of the car quickly so that the spider couldn’t crawl across the car and get inside. They do bite but are not aggressive or terribly poisonous but I didn’t fancy testing that bit of scientific knowledge. And the shock of having one drop down from the roof of the car into one’s lap, could easily cause an accident.
I did my shopping and stopped at the pharmacy and by the time I returned to the car I’d forgotten about the spider. After putting things in the boot I came around to the driver’s door and there was that blinking spider again! Shivers. The only thing I had to swipe at it was my grocery list so I swiped—trying to get it off the car. But they JUMP. So it jumped back to the windscreen and across to the other side of the car again. I walked around and found it, cleverly trying to flatten itself out so as not to be seen. I took one last careful aim and swiped at it and it disappeared.The other worst outcome. Where had it gone? I quickly tried to locate it and thank goodness it was on the ground out in front of the car a couple of feet. I quickly got into the car and closed the door. Because I had backed into the space I pulled out fairly quickly and left Mr Spidee behind.
Clearly my days of penance are not over.
Updating you about my continuing creative efforts will wait for another day. Have a great week.
I have been psyching myself up and out–for months, years even, trying to re-establish an art practice. I have gone the way of the parent who decided to stay at home and raise a child(ren) and then never went back to work outside the home. Having done freelance work from home for years I thought I would just naturally drift back into that once the child had left home. But the husband was used to someone to run the home while he traveled for work, and the child didn’t leave home until she was 23…and then there was breast cancer. The practice was well and truly buried. Deeply.
I drifted from dribs and drabs of painting, to jewellery making, to various crafts but I never developed a discipline. That was probably because I didn’t have to. But something in me really wanted to. It felt like I wasn’t finished yet. I’d gleaned all these amazing shapes and colours and textures from living life where I wanted to be and it felt like they were meant to live through me in another form.
In recent years I’d have a burst of creative energy or ideas once or twice a year but somehow I couldn’t convert it to a sustained practice that was taking me on the journey of discovery I wanted to have. What to do?
Not even the stay-at-home days of the pandemic had given me the push forward I needed. I searched and read and listened and scrolled to get inspired. While all of that was interesting, I had not yet figured out how to convert it to a practice.
One podcast inspired me to take an online course presented by an artist who came to her practice in her middle life. I enjoyed the course but when it was over once again I found myself with a few new skills and no practice, no direction.
The next time I was inspired by an online course, I was not even that successful. I followed the instructor’s lead, but realised it just wasn’t my thing. The next course I never even started. I loved the idea and his lessons were good but it just didn’t float my boat. Once again, it felt like I would be working in his style, rather than developing my own.
The holidays came and I was back to doing what I’ve become pretty good at, being a homemaker, wife and mother. I love all those things and don’t want to abandon them, but I want more. So when the holidays were over and I had caught up on rest, I was back to trying to get myself inspired. I thought what was lacking was inspiration so I followed more people on Instagram, watched YouTube, read inspiring stories and occasionally visited my drawing table with sporadic and unfulfilling results.
And then on January 14th came a TED talk. Even they had been falling a little flat for me in recent months. Everyone was trying to communicate their idea of something great. I didn’t want someone else’s ‘great’, I wanted my own. The TED recommendation came via email, and didn’t interest me. But I scrolled down the same page. An unassuming small talk by a woman I’d never heard of, piqued my curiosity. ‘The one minute secret to forming a new habit’…and it was only ten minutes long. I was in.
The talk was given by a novice video editor presenting from home, as per the covid-norm, and so it was a little annoying, but I kept telling myself, ten minutes is not that long unless you are having root canal work done, so hang in there. She stated her case for taking one minute out of every day to establish a new habit. Her new habit had been running. Her only stipulation? You have to be okay if you suck at it! C’mon, that is doable, right? I can suck with the best of them! That very day I began. I would take one minute and sit at my drawing table and doodle. To be honest, from day one, I took more than a minute. And I did suck most of the time. But I loved that sitting down, and embracing the suck-ness freed me up to keep coming back. It wasn’t about the quality of the work, it was about showing up.
Every day I sat down, and curiosity would take over. In seconds I was wondering what this colour or this mark would look like with that one and where it would all lead. And I reminded myself it didn’t matter if it sucked, I was just establishing the habit. Even the days when I didn’t feel like doing it, I sat down and did a little something.
After a few days my mood lightened. I felt happier within myself. Maybe it was just coincidence, I thought. After a week or so I noticed that I was having more creative moments throughout the day. I would look at something and immediately wonder what kind of drawing or painting that would make. I was taking more photos again, and not to post on Instagram, but as reference for potential drawings or paintings.
On day 10 I had taken a striking photo of the light at sunrise, of the houses and trees that we see from our place. That day I made the first pastel work that I have ever liked out of several attempts in years gone by. The next day I went back to sucking again.
But the day after that, I still showed up for another minute…and another minute…and then more than a minute and then more than an hour! I couldn’t believe this simple change could make such a big difference so easily. Soon I found myself watching YouTube videos to learn how to use the soft pastels that are my new enthusiasm. Watching the videos was not included in my one minute session, that was in addition to the one minute, which by then, were almost never only one minute but stretched into half hours and more.
I began to employ a little trick I used to use when painting more regularly. Years ago I’d noticed if I began a painting and had it, say, two thirds completed, enough to see where I was going with it, I would walk away from it for a day or two and then come back. It beckoned to me to come back and finish it, so it got me back into the studio again. This time, I found that I would not fret about how much time I had spent on an image, but I could leave it to return to later. As I walked in and out of the room, passed the table, I would glance at it and mull it over all the remainder of the day. Then, fresh with enthusiasm I would return and finish it next day. For many artists this doesn’t work. They find the mood is broken and they can’t get back into the flow of that work again. But in my case, it works. For me it’s important to self evaluate, not judge the work good or bad, but evaluate effective procedures and practices, study the colours and composition so I can modify things or use the time to advantage.
For me, this little one minute change relegated my relentlessly judgemental self to a position that was much less inhibiting. It reduced the task to the smallest increment and allowed that to be crappy. I just had to show up. I’m good at showing up, just not very kind to myself about the results—or I wasn’t, until now! I will be writing more about my journey which is now beginning the sixth week.
I have not missed a single day, but if I do, I will know how to begin again.