Monday, June 2, 2014

blog tour monday

Thanks to the most wonderful, Debi, for asking me to play.

Some thoughts on my creative process as it is right this moment. A snapshot, if you will.

* * *

What am I working on?
I'm in the midst of an informal and unplanned hiatus from my usual mediums of painting/paper arts and writing.  I'm tending a container herb garden on my back deck. Transcribing an almost-100-year-old diary kept by young Pennsylvania woman. Cutting, pressing, and stitching units together for a quilt. Yapping on Facebook. Settling in to a new job. Daydreaming. Night dreaming. Listening to The Beach Boys on an endless loop.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
I don’t really think about genres when it comes to what I do.

Why do I write/create what I do?
An answer with two parts:

Part I
Notice things closely, and remember.

Part II:
In the documentary Man on a Wire, Philippe Petit - the man who surreptitiously strung a tightrope between the Twin Towers in New York City in 1974 and spent the better part of an hour walking, sitting, squatting, and dancing on it - is asked what compels him to do these sorts of daredevil things and he says people ask him this all the time, and even as he’s answering the question, he’s walking away from the camera, waving his hands dismissively, saying he leaves the whys to the psychiatrists, he’s too busy to doing his thing to analyze why this is his thing.

I love that.

Does it really matter why? I can. I want to.

How does my writing/creative process work?
All I know for sure is it ebbs and flows, has its own rhythms, spells, and moods, and because I am not seeking to monetize or market my work, I don’t force anything. If it isn’t fun (and by fun I mean absorbing, not necessarily happy, skipping, la la la “fun”) there isn’t any reason for doing it at all.

Mostly, it’s a mystery.  It brings to mind surfing, what I understand of it, anyway. Paddle out toward the horizon, squint, sit, wait, watch. See a wave that looks right, hop on the board, and ride it for as long as you can – sometimes only a few feet, sometimes all the way home.

What makes me happiest, the thing that feels rightest to me: going out into the world and looking around, coming home and writing it, painting, it, remembering it all down.

* * *

And now, over to next week's participants:

Hollie Sessoms is a girl from nowhere who routinely neglects family, friends, and health to spend time with her imaginary friends on Microsoft Word. She is passionate about spaces in between, Sunday afternoon, and fall leaves that crunch underfoot. Once, when she was young, she saw an orca breach in the sea off the Alaska coast.

Sandy Lupton  is a lifelong learner, graphic designer, painter, mixed media and jewelry artist from Courtland, Virginia. She loves the beach, John Wayne movies, polka dotted dogs, beer and her family & friends with all her heart. She may have warped her brain a little by watching too many 70's sitcoms as a child.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I want I want I want

the tannin in the water like a lake full of root beer
Lake Prince 4/26/14
I want to learn how to fold a tiny paper crane. And plant a moon garden in containers. Maybe take piano lessons from my neighbor. I want to rip canvas off stretchers and bind them into a book the size of an atlas to house my abstract paintings. I want to write a poem. And publish another zine under my Extra Pickles Press concern from another lifetime ago. I want to cook a duck breast for dinner on a soon Sunday. And next Wednesday stop at Doumar's for a limeade on my way back from making the bank deposit at work. I want to mark x's, in big fat marker, to count down the days to Ann Arbor or Bust 2014 in October. I want to listen to The Civil Wars next album, the new one they haven't made yet, the one I so very much hope they get to eventually. I want to discover that someone, somehow, leaked the TCM 2014 Summer Under the Stars schedule somewhere on the internets so I can see if Jean Arthur gets her day this year.

And I want to write whatever I want here. Whenever and whyever I want.

I want I want I want.

No apologies for this all this wanting, which, for all its quantity, weighs not very much at all. As I knew it would, the new job jostled loose some fossilized and possibly irrational guilt I had around about my working life. My free time is bought and paid for now, truly free and clear, mine to do with whatever I want.

There's that word again.

* * *

Saturday. In his little boat on Lake Prince. We listened to the Beach Boys as he serpentined slowly, methodically, into and out of quiet, sun dappled coves along the shoreline looking for bass, while I sang along and watched turtles gather on fallen trees, and wrote, even though I never once touched the spiral notebook and pen I brought along.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

firsts and lasts

on gardner street
Although the long winter didn't fuss me much, I'm marking more closely the firsts this Spring. Last week came the first pink cherry blossoms, the first bluebird, the first tinny sound of Turkey in the Straw as the ice cream truck made it's first drowsy serpentine through the neighborhood. This morning it was the first bee. More specifically the first shadow of a bee through the accordion pleats of the blinds. 

Saturday it will be my first opera and I'm pretty sure it lessens the experience not a whit that I'll be sitting in an air conditioned movie theater at the mall up the road. The Met is the Met, even if it's live streamed. Even if I'm wearing jeans and flip flops.

And not too long after that will be the first day at my new job. The first commute into Norfolk with one of those pre-paid transponder things on my truck to calculate tolls. The first day of the new schedule, still part time but every day and maybe not part time for long (though it is my secret wish I will be so magnificently efficient at my task that it will remain part time). The first interactions with the new boss and new co-workers and setting up a new-to-me desk. And shortly after that, of course, the first new paycheck.

But before the firsts will be the lasts. The last twice weekly conversations - about politics, about gardening, about his family history, and his experiences on a shrimp boat in Alabama - with my 81-year-old friend, Charlie. The last lunch at Don Pancho's with Sharon. The last walk through the lot to take iphone pictures of ladders and random bunches of rusty things and that shiny teal Mustang I never did get to take a spin in. And on the last day, leaving my keys on the desk and closing the door behind me after almost eight years, the longest job I've ever had.

* * *

Nailed to the telephone pole across the street from the office is a bluebird box Charlie made. All these years, through the window next to my desk, I've watched these bright little birds flitting about and sometimes Charlie and and I stand at the door and watch them dive to the grass from the telephone wires (and also, Charlie likes to watch the planes dragging their vapor trails through the sky). But this last week the birds have come closer than ever before. Last week the one sitting - so long and still - on the front steps and yesterday, one on the stair railing peering inside, little seed-pearl eyes blinking. 

Friday, March 21, 2014


On Saturday I emailed my mother a question about a sewing needle and found out my Nonnie, my maternal grandmother, was not doing well. She sometimes knew people, but a moment later might not. And I carried this thought - would she know me? -  all that day. That night I dreamed I was standing outside the little Catholic church of my childhood, wearing a black dress. I saw my Nonnie and approached with hesitation, "Nonnie?" and she beamed and said "Jeannine!" and we embraced tightly, laughing and sobbing.


The thing you should know about her was her voice. She sang. With Evelyn, there was always singing. On stages and in choirs, and once or twice - almost - on the radio. Maybe, most probably, if things had been different, she'd have had a professional career. She sang while making cannelloni, while driving in the car, at my mom's second wedding. She sang for her six kids, and she sang for her grandchildren, and most recently for her little blond-headed great granddaughter. Always, the singing. Always, the voice. It was the thing that was solely hers.


Nonnie told me once that when her mother, my great grandmother, had Alzheimer's disease and didn't know anyone, she would walk in to her mother's room for a visit, and her mother would immediately hum a melody. So even in a memory woven with cobwebs, her mother recognized her daughter.


"My little girl, pink and white as peaches and cream is she ..."

Until a few years ago, when I saw Carousel for the first time, I had no idea that this song*, Soliloquy, was ten minutes long, mostly about a boy, and sung by a man. For me, it was these few words and Nonnie's song; her song for me.

She was a soprano, a lyric soprano when she was younger, and I don't really know what those designations mean, but her voice was so clear and true, it went in through your ears, wrapped itself around your heart and squeezed. When I watch The Sound of Music or Mary Poppins, I see Julie Andrews, but hear Nonnie. Very similar. And how lucky to be able to listen to Nonnie's pretty voice any old time I wanted.


My first Evelyn, the original, my Nonnie, died on Monday in California. 

May she rest in sweet peace. 


And this morning, the first pink blossoms on the neighbor's tree, and the first bluebird - like a little neon light with wings - greeted me on the brick steps of my office. 

*This bit of song starts at 4:08

Friday, March 14, 2014

mermaid lessons, part ii

little works, big happy

what inspiration looks like these days

"Writers think in metaphors.
Editors work in metaphors.
A great reader reads in metaphors.
All are continually asking, "What does this represent? What does it stand for?"
They are trying to take everything one level deeper.
When they get to that level, they will try to go deeper again."


Artists ask those same questions.

As do mermaids.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

on matters of friendship according to Mr. Lewis

Remember last Sunday, a slice of spring,
24 hours before another serving of winter.
Newport News Park

The Four Loves
C.S. Lewis

"In our own time Friendship arises in the same way. For us of course is the shared activity and therefore the companionship on which Friendship supervenes will not often be a bodily one like hunting or fighting. It may be a common religion, common studies, a common profession, even a common recreation. All who share it will be our companions; but one or two or three who share something more will be our Friends. In this kind of love, as Emerson said, Do you love me? means Do you see the same truth? -- Or at least "Do you care about the same truth". The man who agrees with us that some question, little regarded by others, is of great importance can be our Friend. He need not agree with us about the answer.
Notice that Friendship thus repeats on a more individual and less socially necessary level the character of the Companionship which was its matrix. The Companionship was between people who were doing something together -- hunting, studying, painting or what you will. The Friends will still be doing something together, but something more inward, less widely shared and less easily defined ... still travelling companions, but on a different kind of journey ..."

(From the chapter on Friendship. Italicized items are per the original formatting of the text in the book).

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


the heart house circa 2010 (now demolished, only an empty grassy lot)
there were angel statues in the windows

February. The pink month. The month hemmed with lace to soften its sharp edges. The month that wears hearts on the sleeves of its winter coat, for the snowflakes - icy valentines - are 




from the sky.

* * *

And time grinds on.

A few months ago I decided to make a change and naively stupidly believed simply making the decision was the hard part; that the universe would be so delighted with me it would clap its hands together, roll out a red carpet, and fling wide the doors. Perhaps even set a tiara on my head. (A small one, but sparkly). In fact, making the decision was hard but implementing it turns out to be even harder and involves any number of things that are necessary but far outside my comfort zone, any number of things I have mostly no control over. I'm almost completely at the mercy of geography and opportunity.

This change is one of process, with protocols to follow, although mostly it feels like a bullshitty game and I hate playing it, but it's the way the game is played and so I must. 

It's frustrating to make a decision like this and fall forward into nothing, the kind of nothing you hear after a magician taps his hat with his wand, the rimshot is played, the puff of smokes clears and 

no rabbit 

no dove 

no ladder of silky scarves

just the magician standing with an empty hat in hand, wondering what went wrong. And repeating this over and over and over again.

I find myself longing for way more than six impossible things before breakfast, lunch, and dinner, magical things, and I promised myself this year that unless I can wiggle my nose and unspill the milk, or click my shoes and wake up in California, unless I can pull a fat white rabbit out of a hat, there will be no magical thinking.

The meaning of magic, like so many good words, has been diluted beyond recognition. In my personal vocabulary, I aim to put it back into its rightful usage.

So no magic here.

Just waiting. 

Responding to the process when it calls.

Working on a snippet of writing here, and color mixing experiments there and entirely too much baking. Rereading Little Women and after that will be Francie and A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. I listen for the train in the distance and take odd comfort in the sound of the dishwasher. There is a kitten who leaves crumpled paper balls on the bed, and a big orange cat who sits with me while I watch luge, snowboarding, skiing (sports I only watch every four years). I dream of Michigan in the fall, and wonder if all of this will have worked itself out by then. I make my own comforts.

And it will be March soon.

The green month.

The lucky month. 

Magic may be a no go, 
but I never said anything about luck.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

mermaid lessons

“I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths
 and a great fear of shallow living.” 
(The Four-Chambered Heart, Anaïs Nin)

Last night, I dreamed I was on a ship with one other person - a ghost or just a hazy figure, I'm not sure which - on a lonely sea. The ghost person turned to some task at the opposite end of the boat and didn't see me when I fell overboard into what can only be described as diluted quicksand. I knew, as I was being swallowed up, I only had a few precious seconds before it would be too late for rescue. And almost instantly I was too far gone to save. 

I sank deeper and deeper into the muck and for awhile just surrendered to the inevitable, willed myself to close my eyes and go to sleep. But then, suddenly, I kicked my feet and thrust upward, could feel my neck muscles straining as I tilted my face towards the sky.

As I broke the surface, I woke up.


I miss my creative outlets.

So much of what matters to me creatively has been polluted. There is so very much to unlearn, and all my usual tricks - the things I've always counted on - are not working.  And it is a lonely process trying to find my way back.  I keep thinking I've turned a corner, and then - smack - right into a wall. The corner was only a trompe l'oeil painting of a corner.

I'm working so hard - unlearning the most damaging things. Unlearning is a hundred - a thousand! - times harder than learning something. 

I'm not afraid of depths. Not afraid of asking hard questions or getting dirty, or poking at the underbellies of things washed up on the shore. I'm just not. Like Nin, I too have a great fear of and even disregard for shallowness, for it's my observation and experience that the shallow ones aren't happier or lighter than everyone else. Willfully denying something, refusing to see something, doesn't make those somethings untrue, and doesn't make those somethings go away. Those somethings will find other ways to haunt you if you are too afraid to confront them.


What is the collective noun for mermaids?

Is there one?

In the sea I've been swimming in, I haven't seen one other.