Thursday, February 28, 2008

In the family

I mentioned that my son is writing a sci-fi novel. Last Sunday, he spent the afternoon writing (probably because it was cold outside, and I had told him that he couldn't play X-box). My daughter, too, sat in the living room and began writing in her notebook. I should have taken a picture. Later, I had to laugh, because when my son came to the supper table, he said, "That was a good writing day." I have to wonder, "Do I say stuff like that?" It is gratifying when you see your kids following in your footsteps. Scary as hell, in a way, but endearing when it is the more positive traits they are emulating.

Frida Kahlo and Darth Vader

While it seems that Frida Kahlo and Darth Vader have little in common, they are together in a geographical way this month in Philadelphia. Kahlo is at the Museum of Art and The Star Wars exhibit is at the Franklin Institide. We had thought about going to Philadelphia for a long weekend, but as it turned out, we got tickets for both events on the same day. It was a long day. The kids had a snow day the day before, but somehow we didn't turn that day of immobility into reserved energy. Even now, writing about the adventure makes me want to take a nap. But there were highlights. I was completely inspired by Frida Kahlo. Knowing that a great deal of her life was spent in bed, feeling lousy--I had a new appreciation for her accomplishments. She is feted in both the feminist and chicana communities. From the audio tour, I was led to believe that she is seen more as a victim in the feminist community and a strong woman who overcomes adversity in the chicana community. I was surprised by that assessment. I haven't seen her as a victim, but perhaps that has to do with the powerful film of her life starring Salma Hayak. To say I was reinvigorated by this show is an understatement.

My son is writing a sci-fi novel. I told him that he should try to find influences for his book in both exhibits. Star Wars was a no-brainer, but I am sure he was confused as to how to incorporate Frida into his work. At the Star Wars exhibit we saw a blurb that explained how pictures of Einstein's wrinkles were incorporated into the Yoda puppet. It was easy to see from that example how two disparate ideas could come together. Then we went to a Science demonstration about the questions scientists are asking based upon science fiction movies. In the movies, writers dream up possibilities that don't exist. Later scientists ask, "How could we make them exist?" For instance, how could we make a weapon like a light saber? That's what I love about art. It makes you think outside the box. That's what I like about being an artist--you have to look at the world differently and make unusual associations. Even now I am thinking about how I can include influences from both these exhibits into my work.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Chill, Jill

When I say that this year felt like a non-birthday, I am not talking about a lack of celebration. I did go to the art studio for the day, but felt very tired and as if I didn't really accomplish my goals--except that deep breathing one. I walked the labyrinth in the snow. The circuitous path tired me out, but I returned to the cozy studio shed for some light yoga and a little nap. I had intended to do more artwork there, but ended up doing a lot of resting, tea drinking, listening to my new album, and flipping through some of the books at the studio--some art coaching books by Eric Maisel. As tired as I was, I couldn't really benefit from the lessons of the book, but I perused it long enough to know that it would be a helpful text for me once I felt better. Because of that, I stopped at the bookstore on the way home and bought myself a birthday gift for future use.
Here's the reason it didn't feel like a birthday. I am a very reflective person, and I take every opportunity to probe my psyche--probably to the edge of neurosis. I mean, I'd like to think my practice keeps me sane, makes me a better writer, and all of that. So when I had a birthday and the brain felt too foggy to inventory my life, my art, my exercise routine, my relationships, it felt like a wasted opportunity. But maybe that was the lesson for the day. What did I get for gifts? My husband got me a great new chair. (While furniture is usually a shared venture, this piece, with its dramatic arms and purple spiraling fabric is definitely ME.) My friend Regina got me cashmere socks. My friend Marsha gave me great smelling lavender/vanilla bath treatments. I got beautiful picture/poetry books from Jodi. They gave the day a comfort and relaxation tone to it. So, I am going to go with that.
This week is still about recovery. I get winded going up stairs. I am still tired and congested. While I bought my new running shoes two weeks ago, I have yet to use them. But I will be patient and give myself the time to let go of the goals. I will have some catching up to do. My schedule doesn't really allow for downtime, but I am not worried. Even without analysis, I can see that sometimes it is advantageous to take some time and just BE.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Flu and the February Girl

The flu came to our house and claimed three victims. The kids seemed to get over whatever they had rather quickly, but I was thrown for a loop this past weekend. I don't believe I've ever had body aches that severe except for I don't know...natural childbirth or the 24th mile of the Chicago Marathon? I don't get the flu often, thank goodness. In fact, I know the last time I had the flu because it was so memorable: my 30th birthday while vacationing in Williamsburg, VA with my extended family. My sister, who just announced her pregnancy, became my nursemaid. Probably not the smartest move on her part, but she's a natural caregiver and couldn't turn her back on me. She was already getting the hang of that motherhood thing. Luckily, she didn't get sick. The other adults rallied around my kids and their needs. At the time they were 1 and 4--the only kids. I wasn't able to sleep nights and ended up watching Charlie's Angel's reruns and rude comedy offerings on HBO, a channel we didn't have at the time (before Tony Soprano and Carrie Bradshaw had me in their clutches). My entire extended family went out for a birthday dinner--without me. I did get to experience my birthday cake...twice...if you know what I mean. I was the only person who got sick, so my mom thought I was just having psychological issues related to aging. I contend that it was not the case.
So I guess I can't complain when my current recovery has come in the nick of time to celebrate my birthday this year. And to be honest, the nine years I was flu-free should count as a blessing and an affirmation of lovely life. Yes, I am going to be 39, and I am really happy to be this age. The number 40 doesn't scare me, but the seriousness of purpose in big birthday celebrations does. Crazy. 39 belongs to me. I am spending the day alone and in retreat tomorrow. I've rented a yoga/art studio shed in the middle of a spiritual retreat center. Just me. I am taking watercolors, camera, journal, yoga mat, and an assortment of cheese. Quite honestly, if all I accomplish is deep breathing, I will be a happy girl.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

License to ignore Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day. When you tell your dearest peeps how they make you all melty. How novel. Like getting out the good china for one day out of the year, and sitting it on the shelf for the other 364 days. I was at the grocery store to get pain meds for my daughter, and I saw the slapstick routine of dozens of men scurrying for a single rose and staring with puzzlement at the dwindling selection of red cards.
I tend to think Valentine's Day means the most to people who are removed by place and time (perhaps even future time) from the great loves of their life. I remember the sigh-inducing years of teenagedom when Valentine's Day was some sort of yardstick of inadequacy. Nobody to put a stuffed animal in my locker or get me carnations on carnation day. I remember one year, my friend visited my high school from a neighboring district, and I took her with me to my classes. Her father was my social studies teacher. He snagged us each a red carnation. J let me carry her both flowers around so people would think I had a secret sweetheart. This was probably one desperate step removed from sending myself flowers. In those days, I occupied my mind by asking silly questions: Would I achieve coupledom by the same time the next year and did I already know the man I would marry? The answer to both questions was yes. By the next year, I was dating my future husband, but we were apart because he was in college and I was a senior in high school. More sighs. More lamenting. That year, our first Valentine's day, I got my red carnations by way of my boyfriend's mother (my future MIL) who worked in the school office. (I"ll save the sad irony of me getting pity flowers from high school personell two years in a row for a plotpoint in a future novel.) More loverless Valentine's Days followed. Said long-distance-boyfriend-turned-husband had his college indoor track championships the weekend in February that fell between V-day and my birthday. Cards and candy, but no kisses.
I don't bring up these ghosts of Valentine's Days past in order to elicit sympathy. Since those days, I have spent so many glorious times with my mate that Valentine's Day seems a silly way to acknowledge what we have been through and what we are to each other. Quite meaningless in the face of our daily life. This year's festivities included: the emergency room, sleeplessness, and a puke green cast on our daughter's arm along with the more celebratory flowers, steak dinner, and bottle of wine. Even if you have romance--life doesn't always pause.
No matter. What I am really saying is that Valentine's Day turns into a bigger deal for people who are missing their love connection than for the people who have a daily dose of love in their lives. The new widow. The husband with a wife serving in Iraq. The woman who is going through a messy divorce or break-up. The college freshman who has never had a significant relationship. And those for whom love is not condoned. Maybe it was my novel about two lesbian grandmothers who couldn't acknowledge their true relationship, but I received emails this year from various organizations asking me to sign a petition to send to Congress asking them to pass on legislation that bans gay marriage. I signed. I have what I want for Valentine's Day. Maybe my signature is just a pretend red carnation or maybe it is a placeholder for Valentine's Days to come, but I harbor the dream that more people can have the love they want--the true kind that gives them license to ignore this in-your-face Hallmark holiday.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A day off

Sometimes it is good when bad weather, early school dismissal, kids' (plural) sick day, and heavy cramps coincide. Take it as a sign from the universe that you really aren't supposed to do anything productive.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


2008 has started with a bang. The last few weeks seemed to last about a million years. My husband interviewed for and got a new job. Hell on the manicure. (This is a joke. Ever see an artist's hands? Nail polish doesn't have a chance.) With this job change, for which we've been waiting eons, it seems that the family has breathed out a collective sigh of relief. Perhaps we've been damming up all our own energies, waiting for this outcome. And so it has begun.

Mark's schedule has changed, which means my schedule has changed. My car died in the middle of a downpour when I had no cell phone. We replaced it with a better model (car, not the cell phone). Mark traded his car in for better gas mileage for his longer commute. We aren't the kind of people to trade in cars. We run them to the ground. Last time we bought cars was 1998. Then, as now, we both bought cars in the same week. Who does that?

Both kids are heading toward some pretty intensive spring activities some of which called for auditions/tryouts and honest-to-goodness swashbuckling. More nailbiting on the part of the mother. Outwardly, I am calm and supportive. My cuticles tell a different story. The kids have even more opportunities before them. I am truly excited for them in a way that only a parent can be.

My artwork went on display at Red Raven Art Company on gallery row in Lancaster and I sold a piece to a pretty well-known citizen and art collector. (Let's just say that a local university art building is named after her.) My mind reels. Seems I now have credibility as an artist (either in the public spectrum and/or my own head. Can't decide.)

I revisited my second novel--aiming for some hefty revising. This is a major breakthrough for me. My writing was lagging behind painting the last couple of months.

Lots of swirling movement. I'm beginning to think it had to do with the rearranging of furniture. Feng Shui? How else can you explain all the changes? Somehow, this shift in reality begs for answers. But maybe I don't want to know. Maybe right now, it is just enough to send out prayers of gratitude, a few well-meaning thank you notes, and accept that we have been laying the groundwork for these happenings over the period of some seemingly stagnant months.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fashion Week

From the time I was thirteen until I got out of high school, my dream was to become a fashion designer. I had learned to sew in Girls Scouts. I went every Tuesday after school to my leader Kathy's house, where I would sew new outfits in her attic sewing space and afterwards we would make dinner together. This was a pretty heady experience for a young girl. I got undivided attention of an adult, and I got new clothes. Not only was I happy to be wearing new clothes, but the pride of ownership was magnified by the fact that I had made the clothes. I did not grow up in an income bracket to match my classmates' designer jeans. The few pairs I owned were courtesy of an older neighbor who outgrew them. So after I had sewed for awhile, I started to forgo the patterns. I did have designer clothes--designed by me.
I think that my desire to become a designer signified a greater need: to create my own reality outside the influence of parents and even my peers. I didn't want to imprinted with the stamp of anyone else. Obviously, I didn't become a fashion designer. The goal was to get a fine arts degree with a concentration in fibers, and then get my master's in fashion design. Along the way, I got caught up in the intellectualism and purity of the arts, but there is still a part of me that wants to create movable, wearable (fun!) sculpture in fabulous colors and textures. A portable landscape. A disguise. A veiling (or unveiling) of truth and/or beauty. I don't look at fashion magazines now or check out runway shows. I won't even watch Project Runway because it would probably make my mind go into overdrive as my repressed teenaged ambitions become uncaged. I have enough on my plate, and to be honest, I pretty much hate to sew. But sometimes I throw a fabulous scarf on my neck, look in the mirror, and see the girl who wanted to swaddle her aura and own her boundaries.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

When it rains...get a new bumper sticker.

Yesterday, after ten years of service to our family, my beloved purple minivan Iris, died. She gave us a wonderful ride in Philadelphia/Delaware area last weekend. A trip to Trader Joe's and Total Wine. IKEA. We were looking to replace her in probably two months, but on the way home from the grocery store yesterday she decided to take destiny into her own hands. In a torrential downpour, she started bucking as I was getting off the exit ramp about 3.5 miles from my house. I would have pulled under the overpass and let her sit there, but I had neglected to take my cell phone with me that day. (This was pure idiocy on my part--driving a minivan with over 201,340 miles in a downpour. I wasn't tempting the car gods there, was I?) I managed to get Iris to cough and sputter to a gas station where I called for a ride from my trusty friend Marsha. Not some little repair: I had no reverse gear and the car wouldn't go above 30 miles an hour. I heard a choir of angels break through the clouds and say, "It's the transmission!" I was just glad it happened at a convenient time without kids in the car, and in a place convenient to our house.
So, as luck would have it, my in-laws want to buy a new car and already had their prize picked out. We are buying their old one. Under-employed artist/writers can't really be choosy in this instance, but I am lucky in that their 2003 van fits our family's needs and lifestyle. Plus, a minivan is good for me as an artist, hauling my paintings around. The "new" car is washed and waxed with a CD player and power everything that my previous car lacked. I guess my left arm will probably atrophy now that I don't have to wind the window down, but buying shirts will be easier now that both arms will be the same size. And quiet? I can actually hear the radio when I am driving on the highway.
So here's the thing. I am looking for a new pithy, non-political bumper sticker. My last bumper sticker read, "Well-behaved women seldom make history." That bumper sticker suited me to a T. But I am willing to see what else is out there, and I am open to all suggestions. Lay them on me in the comments section or send me links to possibilities.

Update: I've been checking out the possibilities:

Don't make me call my flying monkeys

You'd be like this, too, if they dropped a house on your sister.


Techno Pagan. I workship the holy Mother Board (This one is funny because my husband is a techie Geek.)

Goddess on the loose (I like this one, but have to remember that my husband will be driving this occasionally.)

A woman's place is in the house. The White House.

You just got passed by a mom in a minivan.

If you ate pasta and antipasta would you still be hungry?

Come to the dark side. We have cookies.

If my husband is the computer geek, why am I the one multi-tasking?

Study art and logic. Learn to draw your own conclusions.