Thank you, Judy Hartman, for posting this article that reflects on the positive outcomes of drawing in a sketchbook. In our attempts to manage busy-ness, if we can steal some time every day for *just* drawing, great things can happen! This article summarizes benefits well. I think about working on my sketchbook daily. Sometimes several times a day. Do I get there? Not always. But, I can doodle on a meeting note paper (hey, science confirms that many people are more engaged in listening when doodling!) or scribble on my phone. I can play with Prisma. The whole point is to not only think artistically, but to DO SOMETHING WITH IT. Every day. If only I was a purely sequential person with strong habits...but then I might not be an artist!
I tend to spend time creating organizational lists of what I need to do, and thanks to the many cool apps out there, lists of lists, even. It is easier to feel more in control of the chaos that is my life if stuff is at least written down in an organized manner. The snails pace at which I crawl through items is a reality I've yet to accept.
I tend to live in a state of semi-abstract reflection and gathering mode, with textile art pieces coming together in very serendipitous ways. It is like they need to be "discovered" as much as created. If an idea is too planned out or predictable in my mind, it tends to be a non-starter. Today at school as I was frantically chopping paper as I prepare student work for the district ArtsFest exhibit, an idea came into my mind full force, fully bloomed. I have an art history timeline wrapping around my room and was in front of a photo of Stonehenge, as it hung above my paper cutter. Last summer I created a large piece of fabric featuring Stonehenge from one of the color slides I rescued from the recycle center last spring. I've been holding off on doing something with it as I wasn't sure. Then today, BAM, I saw it. I know the piece needs text, but couldn't really figure out what exactly the piece was trying to say. A few lines let themselves be known as I measured and cut on autopilot. I scribbled it down, shoved it in my pocket, and hope it makes it into my sketchbook before it accidentally gets tossed in the washer. So now the big graphic piece has some accompanying text, and there are other images and materials that are bubbling around in my brain for developing different areas. Hmmmm.....so many possibilities!
My sketchbook is my messy house, my busy life, my many connections with wonderful people and animals. All the separate pieces of life that long to be collected in one place. Instead of a sketchbook, these fragments end up in larger works. I'd love to sit and draw more and believe wholeheartedly in the benefits. But I'd need another lifetime to do it. Cheers!
Yesterday, I was signing a piece I made for the Quilters' Connection fundraising sale and made a mistake. I signed it 2007 instead of 2017. I looked at it like "Wait...that isn't right..." When I'd realized the error I was shocked that I could make one like that. Ten years is a lot of time! Weird. I doodled into the error and moved on. The older I get, the faster time moves, and the stranger memories become.
I felt really under the weather yesterday and stayed home from school. A quiet day of mostly sleep, with a little stitching at night. Despite being pretty rested I went to bed early, putting on my audio book. Somehow I bumped the titles around and one loaded that I didn't expect. Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach.(Selected quotes can be found here.) I'd put a hold on it months ago through BPL online and it had become available last week. While parts of the meditations are beyond me, the author acknowledges the reasons why and forces one to think more deeply. Delicious quotes by Rumi and Hafiz pepper the narratives. and I slept through the book, sometimes being completely awake, other times being somewhere in the land of nod. When I did sleep deeply, my dreams were populated by people from my past that I had strong feelings for. They were explaining their side of things and bits and pieces of recurring dreams kept popping up. Lots of strange feelings in my dreams. Very odd. I wish I fell asleep to Dean Koontz of Stephen King book instead. Still, at 3:47am I was awake and drawing in my sketchbook, taking down thoughts and ideas that had seemed interesting in that twilight hour. I believe strongly that I will never be a meditating Buddhist but some of the philosophy makes sense in the ridiculously layered and tumultuous world we all live in today. Maybe a Cafeteria Buddhist.
Happy to have finished a "quick" piece for QC. Now back to the other work, which lies patiently waiting for attention. And there is a lot of it! I started a little owl collage at school for a demo paper painting piece for my 8th grade elective class, and I am thinking of making a biiiig fabric one, too. I am letting the ideas percolate right now to see if the investment of time is worth it. I am seeing something a bit different, here -- a blend of the brightly colored fabrics I love and computer printed ones, some hand painting, and lots of surface work. Trying to get it to the "I see you!" stage in my mind without getting tired of it. I also want to make a GIANT piece of an African Grey digital image I made at school when demoing techniques. Not a heavily embellished piece, but a quilted large piece just because I want to make it. I'm thinking of taking the graphic and printing it on tiled pieces of fabric and combining them in patchwork form to make the normally small grey about five feet tall. Hee hee hee... Hard to know what is a distraction vs. the Real Art we are supposed to make. IS there a difference? Is the distraction the Real Art we just don't have time for because we have to work so much? Hmmm.... So much art, so little time.
As I wait for my legs to calm down so they stop screaming when I need them to support me, the elderly canine crew rests on its bedding. The cats have already appeared to demand breakfast as though they've never been fed (I think the last can was provided at 3:49 am, however) and the birds wait patiently for their morning routine to begin, offering "Good morning"s and kisses from the back room. My house is a mess, my art life often feels like a mess, and my body sure as hell is a mess. I think if a quote from the book I absorbed last night:
“There is something wonderfully bold and liberating about saying yes to our entire imperfect and messy life.”
― Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With The Heart Of A Buddha
Time flies! Super fast weekend with just enough sleep, art, and fun to make it a good one. That is a rare thing these days! On Saturday afternoon I got to FINALLY meet my colleague/work husband's beautiful new baby boy Jack, who was even cuter than photos have shown him to be. Just a precious little bundle! Saturday night Tim and I went to see the traditional Irish group Caladh Nua at the Shalin Liu Performance Center. We revisited the little pizza shop in downtown Rockport that was perhaps the only restaurant open pre-concert (as we did a year ago for a similar event.) I wore new shoes, ones that looked more like normal shoes than elderly orthopedic sneaker nightmares, and was able to almost walk normally, albeit a little slower than my normal pace. At one point though Tim suggested he push me around in a wheelchair instead, which let to a funny but greatly imbalanced image in our heads and lots of laughs. Then, a recuperative Sunday morning with a surprise visit from my bestie Dona and a dinner and dog walk date with Tim at night, followed by art time before bed. Was nice to have a *normal* weekend of doing things instead of needing to sleep or monitor doggie blood sugar. Maybe the Remicade will work at least a little?
Working hard of getting the heavily embellished pot piece backed and ready for the QC exhibit in the Spring. So far, so good, though the awkward handle shapes are challenging. Backing this piece requires at least three go-rounds around the outer contour of the whole piece -- tacking the back down, attaching the silk backing, then beading the edge. So far it is hanging well with the internal wire supports and I am happy to see the end of this one. I really like this piece as the embellishment doesn't feel "extra" - it *is* the piece. I also noticed how much better I felt energy and mood wise after just getting lost in the stitch for an hour or so each time I worked on it. Stress-buster and mind-chiller. Anti-Toby process, for sure. Happy Monday to all.
Off for Remicade today. Hoping it does miraculous things, but am realistic in that I predict it won't. I hate to use this "art" forum as a whining cafe, but today (and this week) has been one of those times where the pain is nothing short of brutal, and its consistent presence is really something no one could understand unless they were living in it. A head to toe pain suit. Slept more than I should have this week, was almost late for work twice (or was, depending on how you look at it!) and the first few hours of the day have been ugly and exhausting. This gets so old...and while I can be distracted from it for parts of the day (thank you, kids at school, thank you art when I can actually get to doing it) it is always there in the background, making sucker punches to my legs and arms, stepping on my feet, squeezing my hands in unwanted handshakes. Some days I wonder how long someone can deal with this level of almost round the clock discomfort, and not being able to get away from it...wonder indeed. Since there isn't a choice, it is a moot point. Pain meds aren't cutting it right now. Sigh.
To add insult to injury, Toby is back to his old happy self. We seem to have found a good level of insulin to keep him going, and he is again delighting in creating the biggest, most disgusting and irreverent messes that he can in my home. I find myself daydreaming and fantasizing about not living like this, in this constant mess. How a dog can want to urinate where he sleeps and eats is beyond me. As soon as I put down a clean dog bed and turn my back, he has peed on it. I can't keep up...! I yearn to live in a clean house and be able to make good changes to the run down rooms I try to live in when he is no longer here to destroy them. I am far from materialistic, but current conditions are even hard for me to live in. Yet I love his little face, his happy tail that never stops wagging, and the fact that he is a dog with a very strong personality. THank GOD he is cute.
And it is St. Patrick's Day! My late Ma's favorite holiday. I have such mixed feelings about the Irish culture that I belong to (long stories involved, here) but have to remember my Mom and her Dad on this day of the Green Drink. As I am getting bad meds pumped through my liver today, I might not be able to participate in more than a tiny toast, but will have to make the time and space to do it for memory's sake. Hoping for some art time on the menu today as well, but that will depend on how the infusion goes. Sometimes I get really tired after it even though I was stuck in a chair for several hours.
I gave each of the birds a long, soaking spray bath this morning and they are all happily grooming themselves in the sunshine. At least some of my pets appreciate clean! Cheers.
Blizzard Stella has come and gone, as has the plow, leaving my car ice locked in the driveway like Shackleton's Endurance. Methinks it will stay there, at least until after school. I hope I can retrieve the potatoes that are in the trunk that my students need to draw this week, though...uh oh. Better count those as gonzo and bring my kitchen supply in to school today instead. Besides - I think there are some cool ones with lots of unusual eye-growths in my cluttered pantry cabinet...
Catherine, the cappuccino machine, has been a wonderful assistant. I am limiting my intake so I don't become a twitching mess, but even with a couple of caps a day, I feel a boost in energy and focus. So grateful to have found a way to have coffee that doesn't get my gut. Today I have a little sprinkle of nutmeg on my froth, and it is delightful. School starts an hour later this morning, too. Ahhhh.
Yesterday would have been a perfect art day except for the fact that I woke up very late, and most definitely had an incoming headcold and/or RA flare up. I fought the dead-tired feeling all day, only managing to get the small piece I am making for the Quilters' Connection show auction quilted and to start backing the big pot I made last summer. Hardly a stellar day.
With RA the fatigue and pain bouts are so common I try using the "rest and rally" approach. When I "hit the wall" (and we've all hit that wall, whether you have RA or not. But with RA you are surrounded on all sides by it and sometimes seemingly hit it just by getting up and breathing.) Rather than give up completely and go to bed for an indefinite period of time, which is what your mind and body screams to do, I lay down for a short time - 30, 45, 60 minutes - and then get up and see if I've stored enough battery juice to do something. Anything. Toss in a laundry, empty the dishwasher, clean something. Often I still don't feel well enough to tackle an art project, though, and usually home stuff is needing attention first. Then, it is either back to bed for another R&R session, or I can plow through. Miserable state of being. I can completely understand why my dad spent so many of his days after the age of 50 laying in bed watching tv and moving in and out of sleep.
It is days like yesterday, when I stand surrounded by a studio filled with all the tools and supplies I will ever need to create all the ideas in my mind, that I question whether I should even bother trying. I accomplish so little these days, and feel like a person who "talks the talk" but doesn't produce the work to back it up. Literally every day I think of a new piece that I could make, a new direction to explore, a new medium to incorporate. Yet nothing happens in the studio because I can never seem to get there when the energy is available. I've considered whether this is a psychological block of some sort, as in being afraid to try new directions or being "stuck", but don't think this is the case. I *should* be happy that my hands work at all with this crap disease, and that I can get anything done despite it, but I don't. I feel like my inner expectations and external output never match up, and it is a very defeating feeling.
My good friend is writing a book right now and has been struggling with the permanent feeling of "I should be working on the book..." for a couple of years now. She HAS been working on it a lot, and it is nearing completion. She *should* be proud. Instead, she too is feeling the effects of continual stress of not doing enough every day. We discussed whether feeling this driven is part of being a woman in the age we grew up in. The message we received was "Do it! Do everything a man can do (professionally) and also be a woman! Provide for yourself and be independent! And enjoy it, dammit!"
So independent that functioning alone is the normal reality and the 24 hour day isn't ever enough to wear the many hats we've selected, with good intention, to wear. Teacher, pet mama, friend, home owner, artist, and chronic illness patient (though I didn't choose that one) hats all sit atop my single head and I feel like none fit right. Maybe if I were married it would be different -- I wouldn't be trying to do it all on my own. Maybe I have too many "children" (oops.) Maybe I need to take my physical limitations more seriously. These days, though, that isn't really an option. As single middle aged women we are also indoctrinated to "not need a man" or relationship, as saying you'd like to be in one is often seen as a sign of weakness as opposed to a genuine wish for connection with another person, which I truly believe is not a bad thing.
I am not sure where this rant is going. It seems to have accompanied the steam the frothed my cappuccino. Temporary. Within hours the teacher hat will be securely in place, the inner artist hat folded neatly away until that rare time the stars align to provide the time and health to create something, and the nagging pain of RA as I thump around school on crappy feet and legs absorbing a good percentage of my energy. I guess I should be happy I have so many hats to wear, at the end of the day, and appreciate the fact that I can still wear them. Seems like so much less than it should be. Potential is scary word. Cheers.
Just another manic Saturday! Awoke to find Cairo perched in the wrong room, which meant that Kizzy had "gone exploring" because I failed to get up early enough for him. It was 7am. He greeted me with a cheerful "Hello!" while hanging by one talon from Cairo's cage door. Love you too, you lock picking lug.
A long night's sleep last night, filled with crazy dreams and a cast of characters any author would love to possess. And a few wake ups with pain so bad I didn't want to move my legs. This contributed to the long sleep. You think..."if I can fall back to sleep, maybe when I wake up again it will be better." Like resetting a computer. But, sadly, often it doesn't. Boo.
Dropped Tilly off for a much needed grooming at PetSmart at nine, then gave into an impulsive Target run to visit the cappuccino makers. It all started two weeks ago, when I got a sudden craving for cappuccino. Knowing that I haven't been tolerating coffee well, I was skeptical in my ability to handle the strong stuff. I was surprised to find not only could my gut handle it well, it gave me MUCH NEEDED OOMPH after school so I wasn't crippled by the need to crash. I found myself gravitating to Starbucks almost daily after the school day for a "quick cap uplift." Made a huge difference in my quality of life at home. One little cuppa magic...sure beats tea.
That being said, that little Starbucks cuppa is expensive and adds up. So, today I indulged in a machine to make them at home. Will pay for itself in no time, and I won't have to make a run downtown where I bump into former and current students while desperately getting my scratch. When I was married years ago we had one of these machines, and I remember loving it and using it a lot, so I know it won't be a waste to have around. I am naming her Catherine, and she is my new assistant. I have a day FILLED with housework ahead of me -- which seemed daunting before brewing the first cup. One yummy serving later and I am ready to take it all on. Go Catherine! If only she'd brew with voice command...sigh. It came out PERFECT, too! It's a quality of life thang...if I want to stay up and get art done at night, and deal with Toby et al, I have to have help!
Am putting together my Saatchi Online site...stay tuned! Will be taking an inventory of all single small pieces that are for sale and posting them soon. And maybe a few big ones, too! Looking forward to digging into the fabrics I made last summer and seeing what they want to become. I plan on adding different media to my page, too -- maybe some drawings, collages on canvas, etc., as long as the quality is there. We might be getting a blizzardish snowstorm this week -- a snowday would sure be put to good use right now!
Off to put Catherine's energy to good use in preparation for my clean little shaved pinky-dog's return! Move over pugs, here comes the mop.
He lives to pee again! And again, and again, and again! His nibs Toby is pulling through ketone acidosis with the spirit of a bull. The only trouble is that, being Toby, he makes testing his urine difficult. I whisk him from crate to outdoors and then have to try to intercept a specimen before it hits a surface. Seeing as he is a veritable fountain of offerings, one would think this isn't too hard to do. As soon as he sees me and the urine test strip, he stops peeing. I started today with a frigid walk up and down the sidewalk trying to subtly swoop in and get what I needed, but was outsmarted. Until finally I wasn't, and back into the warmth we went, where Toby danced around the room, doing his usual unruly and poorly mannered "thang." Oh, Toby. At least the ketones are light today! Onward to start testing his glucose, as soon as the strips arrive from Amazon. I guess people don't use them much anymore so they are hard to find locally. Who knew?
So, off for what will be a busy Monday. I am disappointed in the small amount of art I managed to get done this week, so am trying a new app and mental trick to see if I can work more in. People say it isn't that we don't have time in our lives, it is that we don't spend our time doing the things that matter most. Granted Toby pulled rank this week...and the stove last week...and...and...and. Still...with a little push, I could have done more. I loaded a Time Logger app and am going to track how much time I can work into my days doing art. Then I will bump up the goal. Like mental exercise. Hoping for at least ten hours this week, with my ultimate goal of fifteen-twenty. That's a lot, but I bet the time is there if I prioritize it. I have so much to do...!
My dad told me a story once of how he had a little pomeranian puppy as a young boy that somehow got a broken leg. Knowing his family wouldn't have the money to take care of it, he put it in a box and rode the train to Jamaica Plain (from Charlestown) to Angell Memorial where it was put in a cast. Somehow he managed to do it on his own, though he didn't remember whatever happened to the dog. I can imagine seeing this worried little boy, all alone, with his injured pup sitting on a train, hoping he can get help for it. At that time decent meals were luxuries, let alone pet care.
Fast forward to now. People spend more on their pet care than they do on their own care. It is fantastic that options are available for us to help our "kids," as that is what they are to many of us. No, I won't be sending Toby to college any time soon, but when I see him sleeping peacefully and warm, tucked into his blankets with a full tummy, I couldn't love him more. Mostly because at that very moment he isn't peeing and destroying more of my home, but that isn't the entirety of it. I am in awe of the treatments that are available to our pets and am grateful. The hard part for me is knowing how far to go.
When I was a little girl, routine pet care had not been the norm. You got a dog, and it saw the vet when it got sick, and often that wasn't until the end of it's relatively healthy life. We had acquired a medium sized black lab mix that was named "BJ" ("Black Jack.") One day a Great Dane that lived in the neighborhood visited the yard, and we found out the dog was really Black Jane. Puppies ensued. My dad built a pen in the barn, she had her pups, and it was wonderful as a child to get to be part of it. Until one day my neighbor was walking her maltese on the sidewalk about 40 feet from where the pups were. Jane went ballistic and leaped out of the pen, and straight for my neighbor's ankle. It was a surprising bite as she'd been a predicatable dog up to that point. I remember overhearing my parents talking about how they were going to "get rid of" the lot -- BJ and pups -- and me becoming hysterical with tears. How could they do that to our dog? She was my sister! She had babies! Alas, a warm summer morning I heard a van back down the driveway and before I could even say goodbye to BJ, she and the pups were gone. The Animal Rescue League took them all away. Stoic mama BJ and her beautiful puppies, gone to an unknown fate. My throat still closes when I think of this memory.
I think of why I have so many animals now...knowing that each one will end in tears, eventually. Still, the joy of their presence in our lives often outweighs that pain. The deepest pains of loss that I've felt in my life have been for my cats and dogs. They just don't live long enough. Eventually the time comes when they are old and sickly, and while treatments are available, I can't always afford them. I incurred a lot of debt for my man Tilly last fall, which I gratefully accept as he is still in relatively good health and is My Main Man. Now, it is Toby's turn to need help, and I am conflicted.
He has developed serious diabetes, pancreatitis, a UTI, and an eye infection, all on top of his Addison's disease. He is still wagging his tail and showing signs of happiness, so I can not see euthanasia as an
option. Yet hearing my wonderful vet tell me about all the work ahead to figure out the correct insulin dose and diet brought on a sense of dread. Not just for Toby, but for me. I have spent the better part of almost eleven years dealing with medical issue after medical issue with this pup, not to mention the fallout from his behavioral issues (he's a "marker.") I am tired. Intellectually I can understand that it is okay to put him down as he now has several serious medical conditions that will be very hard to manage.
But I can not do it. Or even think about it, without my throat closing, my eyes filling, and the tears starting. I look at his little innocent pug face and think about how while he has been a royal pain in the ass of a dog, he has been there, wagging his tail, happy to see me, ever since joining my clan. I can't say that about literally any person on the earth. He has been an enthusiastic life-liver of a dog with the happiest tail of any I've ever had. So here I sit, with his sad little face scrunched up in sleep, snuggled up next to his sister Ellie da Pug. This is a toughie.
I can not thank my veterinarian and friend Carol Macomber enough for her help in navigating these difficult waters. I feel immense guilt at not being able to rush to the emergency animal hospital and leaving him there as an inpatient guest to get the best treatment possible. After Tilly's expense, I just can't afford it. That seems brutally unfair on my part. Unjustifiable selfishness at not being willing to just double that debt for Toby. Carol is helping me support and manage him as best we can at home, and I am following her instructions to the letter on when to test his urine, feed him, and give him insulin. She is a GODSEND and I couldn't do this without her.
I feel like the little boy on the train holding his whimpering Pomeranian puppy.
Except the puppy is Toby, the dog I've cursed more often than not for the past ten and a half years. I think we've hit the home stretch, old pal. Maybe, just maybe, we can get you to a place where the insulin will get you to feel better in a consistent way. Maybe, just maybe, the pancreatitis will then calm down. We are treating the UTI and eye infection, and I am cooking you chicken again and researching canine diabetes diets.
All my blowhard talk about not being able to wait for him to go is now in my face as I fill up with tears just thinking of him not being here. Taking baby steps, and hoping that his indomitable spirit kicks in and I laugh about this in a few weeks as me being over sentimental. But there is something in his eyes that makes me think that might not be the case. Only time will tell. I do know that he will not suffer should the diabetes be really difficult to control. I do know I have to try to do this, at least at this point. C'mon, Toby. I love you, pal.
Amy Ropple is an artist and art educator who believes engaging in visual art can make life happier and more meaningful. This blog is a daily journal of creative habits and interests, as well as reflections on living with chronic autoimmune disease.
Disclaimer: Yes, there may be parrots on this site. I live with five of them and they tend to work their way into everything I do!