Friday, March 28, 2008

Jill Ker Conway

Yesterday I attended a lecture of the Lancaster Literary Guild. The speaker was noted memoirist and historian Jill Ker Conway. I was mesmerized by her speech which included passages from her best-known work: The Road from Coorain. A native of the Australian Outback, Ms. Ker Conway is a historian and an educator who resides in Massachusetts. The first female president of Smith College, she has studied the memoirs of many women before deciding to write her own. She wanted to present a story that she felt was missing from the culture--that of the ambitious woman. Not that there is a lack of ambitious women, just that women tend to hide that fact. They deny their agency when they give accounts of their lives. Ker Conway also wanted to write a tale with a feminist hero that proved you can talk of female empowerment in a way that does not denigrate men. Indeed, she was surrounded by men in her formative years in Australia's underpopulated interior. Only once a month would she meet up with someone who was not in her immediate family in which Ker Conway was the only girl. Her father was a real man, not some cartoon of the Australian man as in Crocodile Dundee. Though her portrayals of men are sympathetic, don't expect a romance. Her journey is just that---hers. When she does get married (an event that happens in the second installment of her three-book memoirs) she continues to maintain a path of her own making and does not simply join her husband on his.
I have yet to read her memoir. I am currently reading Three Cups of Tea (another blog entry altogether.) But I can't wait. As a writer who has contemplated a children's book in which a female character goes on a hero's journey, I want to find the ways in which gender plays a role in such things as a "life quest." From the bits she has read to us, these are exactly the kinds of themes that Jill Ker Conway plays with in her memoirs. Joseph Campbell, move over. I am about to discover the heroine's journey.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Real dolls

Sometimes I have a hard time relating to women I know casually--the ones I meet at my kids' activities--for instance. Part of the problem is the whole question of asking, "What do you do?" I don't want to hear those defensive answers from stay-at-home moms or hear the fatigue in the voice of someone who is working full-time AND trying to stage a book fair at the school. I don't want to make the question into a measure of the woman for those who are multi-degreed but have chosen to take a part-time job as a bookkeeper because a job in the field that they love would conflict with family. Even at places like the theater or dance studio where mothers congregate, I have a hard time talking to women about things that are more than superficial.

Luckily, I am involved in some venues in which I get a glimpse of wholeness. It seems that a light goes on, and I can see them for the women they are. Or maybe certain circumstances make it easier for them to open up about their lives and their achievements.

Last week I shared with a woman who gave herself the gift of education for her 50th birthday. She is going back to school and doing an in-depth study of artist Judy Chicago, an artist near to my heart, who really advanced the feminist perspective of art. We talked a bit on this subject before switching it up and discussing the home funeral movement, which this woman is helping to initiate in our area. Like home births and birthing centers did for pregnant women, home funerals are giving people more options in the way to experience the life cycle in private, familial and ecologically minded way.

Another woman in my circle, an art teacher whom I have highlighted before, is taking her own time to host a club after school to teach kids about our food supply, the merits of organic and local food, and to educate them on the fast-food industry's manipulation of kids through commercials and toys. Read her Blog on the club. It is fascinating stuff.

The more active I am in the things that are important to me, the more I am coming into contact with the kind of women who inspire me. Not that I am not inspired by the President of the PTA, just that I feel I missing some of the story.

Here are some snippets of stories I love from women who I know...

...The yoga teacher and mom who is planning a spiritual trip--her first big one away for her family to attend an all-women's week long yoga retreat in a different time zone.

...The woman who has spent years caring for her aging mother, but continued to show her art internationally and who stands on the courthouse steps on Wednesday evenings in solidarity with other mothers in the Middle East doing the same protest against the killing of their sons and daughters.

...The mother of two who left her family for a week to help build houses in Haiti with her church group.

...The teacher who started an African Drumming group with her personal stash of drums. Originally for at-risk boys, the drumming program has expanded to include other students, including girls.

...The empty-nester who took the flight of her offspring as an opportunity to fly for herself. She cultivated a new hobby and a new way of seeing the world-- travel photography.

...The woman who turned away from a high-powered job in finance, went back to school, and now educates the community on issues relating to sexual assault prevention and gender equity.

I am so lucky to have real life examples of women who have dared to live and share. My mother is my first and best among these. As a former teacher, she has been a champion for adult literacy and a student of childhood enrichment. For the past nine years she has been a volunteer and worked with the children and adults whose lives have been affected by family violence.

Just to name a few of my heroes. I should have a tea party and invite them all to tea. It's on my SARK How to be an artist poster. "Invite someone dangerous to tea." These women have quietly begun to change the world we live in. Nothing more dangerous that that.

Paper dolls

Over the last month, I have twice gone to the local domestic violence shelter to do a small bit of programming. Five years ago, my mother, who has been a volunteer with the shelter for 9 years now, came up with an idea to make paper dolls with the residents. With my work teaching creative journaling, it seemed a natural extension of what I did to take on facilitating this group. The idea is based on a book Soul Mate Dolls by Noreen Crone-Findlay. The book describes how to make paper figures to personify grief, remove stumbling blocks, and celebrate joys. The women in our group, most of whom are in transitional housing, made two-sided dolls. One side represented her life in the past in which she experienced abuse, and when she flipped the doll over, she worked on personifying the person she wants to be in the future. For someone observing the creation of these dolls, the process is pretty inspirational. I have roadblocks in my own life, but nothing like these women face, so to see them making a physical representation of their journey is awe-inspiring.

Before this month, I had not done the paper doll workshop for some time. I got a push to do them again because of the upcoming art exhibit at the Lancaster YWCA. The theme for the exhibit is Hope, Creativity, and Healing: Reconstructing Your Life After Sexual Assault. The show will be on display from April 4th (for First Friday Lancaster events) through the Annual Take Back the Night Event on April 10th. The paper dolls will be on display at the exhibit. I will have some pieces of my artwork, relating to female empowerment, on display as well.

I hope that people will take time to come to the YWCA, 110 N. Lime Street, Lancaster PA, to see the exhibit. It is quite powerful to take in the works that these brave women have created. I invite everyone who can, to join us. Make a night of it on Friday, April 4th. Visit the YWCA with reception from 5-9PM. (Besides my work and the paper dolls, there will be pieces by Mimi Shapiro and Mary Lou Weaver--exceptional artists, both of them) and then head to gallery row for other First Friday exhibits.

Monday, March 17, 2008

John Adams

I am a bit of a history buff. I didn't realize this about myself until I went to school and took art history classes. Then all of sudden it seemed the story was illustrated. I get it! Add in my parents' time share in Williamsburg and you get another slant. Colonial Art isn't my thing, but once again, I get the visual connection when I tour the buildings and see the costumes of the day. So I am thrilled that HBO is featuring an event as cool as David McCullough's John Adams. I listened to that particular book on tape. About four years ago, I got hooked on biographies of the men of the American Revolution. I dragged my family to Mt. Vernon and Monticello in Virginia and to John Adams farm and birthplace in Massachusetts. So my interest is a bit more than casual. I like the idealism of these men who were founding a country. Imagine starting from scratch and dreaming up the ideal way to run things. I know these men weren't perfect, but what guts and what visions they had. So far, and I've only seen the first episode, I love the miniseries. Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti are fantastic. (I predict Emmys for both of them.) If you don't get HBO, make sure to rent the series when it comes out--eventually. With the word patriotic being bandied about these days, sometimes it is good to look back and see what the word really means. And, too, it makes me smile and wonder what kind of things would be important to me if I had been the architect of a country.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

So many things in Spring

I have a lot going on this say the least. In additional to my professional activities, the kids are participating in track and a musical, both of which require lots of practices and lots of surreying (the word sounds more bucolic than taxiing). Mark and I are making a few weekend trips both as a couple and with our family. One of those trips includes us all running in a road race--my first in two years. Yikes! Another includes matron-of-honor duties. Double Yikes! I am teaching religious education to my son's class. The curriculum centers on tapping into the creation forces that made life possible and becoming creators ourselves. Art, poetry, music--It is right up my ally. (Except that music part. Seven years of piano lessons for naught.) I am also accompanying my daughter on an overnight environmental field trip in which I will teach about the food chain.

But it is the professional doings that I want to highlight. I spent the morning updating the NEWS section of my site, and I hope that folks will check it out. A variety of interesting stuff going on with which I am pleased to be involved. The Lancaster Literary Guild is having its first ever literary festival. The Lancaster YWCA is hosting an art show as an avenue of hope in the fight against domestic violence. Other things, too. Check them out and let me know what looks interesting to you.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Spring Painting

I sold two paintings in February. One to an well-known area collector, the other to a newlywed couple buying their first piece of real art. It is a sweet feeling. I am moving forward in my painting. I just ordered supplies to start oil painting. I have very little experience in oil paints. A still-life class in college and two paintings of hammers I did in high school. Yes, hammers. Don't ask. My mom worked in hardware store. Up until now, I have been experimenting with latex and ceramic paints. They were free and readily available to me, so I was using them to see if painting was something I wanted to pursue and if I had any affinity for it. When I started I thought I'd be doing some abstract landscapes. I had no idea I would do mainly "people pictures" that tended toward large-textured realism. Actually, I don't know what style you'd call them. Realistic expressionism? The point is that I am now seriously into my painting. Working with the paints has awaken something inside of me. Now, I am not only painting, I am showing and selling work. I am ready to take the next step.
I want to set up a studio space. (Here again, I have been working out of my friend's house where the free paints reside.) I must admit, that I looked up oil painting online to get some advice as to what supplies to get. I even bough an introductory book. I am hoping to stick to my proven subject matter and even replicate my palette as I get used to the new properties of the paint, but I am on my way!