Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The rest of April

My last entry was one of decompression. I must admit that this is more of the same. Since last I wrote, I participated in a book signing, was matron of honor at my college roommate's wedding(the same college roommate that wrote 35 books on wedding planning) in New Jersey, participated in my first "road race" in 2 years--a 5K in Alexandria, VA, toured our nation's capital, and chaperoned/taught at my daughter's 5th grade 3-day environmental field trip.

Though these were big, busy activities, they were actually less stressful/ more enjoyable for me than the beginning of the month activities. The wedding was awesome. I've used the phrase Wedding of a Lifetime. And it was beautiful to see my friend marry such a likable guy. The run in VA was the perfect way for me to get back into my running. I never ran a 5K before and i found I really like that length. Plus I got to hang and reconnect with cool people who I haven't seen in years, but who went to high school with Mark and me. (Mark had a great 10-mile run. He finished in under 75 min.) And I really did love going on the environmental field trip. I taught 5 lessons on the food chain in a downpour. The lesson involved a field game which was played in the mud. Visions of the television show Survivor kept flashing in my head. But the kids were good sports. The next day, under the spell of blue skies and moderate temperatures, I hiked with my daughter to an enormous vertical rock pile which has special significance to me. Two years ago on my son's field trip, I climbed up on the rock pile, sat for three hours, journaled and decided to quit my day job so I could write full-time. This time gave me just as much clarity. I admit, I took a small rock home to hold whenever I need to feel that energy.
April gave me so many blessings. I just need a quiet May to contemplate them all.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


This past week has been a wonder. On Wednesday, I helped to set-up for Fine Arts Day at my daughter's school. Afterwards, I attended a Literary Guild function and went to hear Mary Gordon speak. I enjoyed her talk which was full of humor. I tried to take something from it that would prop me up for the coming days when I would be the one speaking.

Thursday, after a year of planning, Fine Arts Day finally arrived. The day went smoothly--as far as the logistics were concerned. After watching the assembly featuring the Middle School group of African Drummers and dancers, of which my son is a member, I gave 6 presentations about my painting to approximately 500 students. They were well-behaved, attentive, and hopeful. "I want to be an artist when I grow up!" I would ask, "Aren't you already an artist?"

From joyful enthusiasm to skepticism in one day. On Friday, I sat before a grave panel of assorted artists (dancer, musician, writer, etc.) to discuss my proposal to be included in a roster of Artists' Residencies, which are 10-day programs in the schools. I think I was able to articulate my program, but it took some doing. My written proposal confused the panel, and I felt I wasn't communicating well. That my idea for a presentation centered on using creative journal writing as a forum for problem solving, didn't speak well to its merits that they didn't understand my processes, but I think that by the end of the session, the assemblage was more responsive to my ideas. Leaving the group, I felt that it could go either way. Perhaps I would have been a little more optimistic, but I locked my keys with my cell phone in my car.

Today, I was a presenter/panelist at the first Lancaster Book Festival put on by the Lancaster Literary Association. The reading/talk that I gave in the morning was well-received. I felt good about it. The event itself was a great time to network with some admittedly world-weary writers, but it also had its uplifting moments. We wore our name tags a little like one would wear hospital bracelets. Writing being an operation we needed to survive, God willing. People were reverent of our undertakings and asked thoughtful questions. Tomorrow, I have a book signing with many of the authors who were at the event.

Each of these happenings occurring separately would be fuel for me, but the fact that they were so concentrated into such a short space of time, left me feeling a little raw. Can I really imagine doing a book tour? My brain seems on overload. Ideas are flashing around my head. I have business cards of people to contact, thank you notes to write, feelings to sort, inspiration to act upon. I crave retreat. Upon returning home today, I went for a run. A steak dinner on my deck is definitely on the agenda for tonight.

Maybe in a few days, I will be able to better articulate some of the feelings that have surfaced from my week. But right now I must go have a glass of wine with my very supportive and patient husband. I can't say that he personifies these qualities as a rule, but he understood the challenge of my schedule (compounded by the kids' agendas) this week, and rose to the occasion. Even travelling 60 miles round trip to unlock my car door--without wisecrack or commentary. For his this grand gesture alone, I am most grateful.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The mad dance of an artist

On Thursday, I worked on the volunteer packets for Fine Arts Day at my daughter's school. I am not a detail person by nature. But I sorted through sticky notes and pressed on. Usually I can conquer one big thing a day. That was it for me. I did manage to go running, pick up my son from track, and get my daughter and friends to the theater for their preview performance. Dinner was once again a fragmented affair, but still good. We had some shredded chicken and whole wheat penne with the last of the frozen arugula walnut pesto from last year's garden.

Friday seemed to officially begin the weekend even though my husband and son had normal days. I took my daughter out for breakfast. She was doing a school day performance of the play, and I was helping with concessions. Mid-day. I took her back home to rest between performances, but such was not the case for me. I had to design new business cards to put with my artwork at the exhibit. My old cards include my site. Unfortunately, we let that registration slide. Now somebody wants $600 plus to reactivate it. Not going to happen. Better to spend $40 printing new business cards. I am happy with the new cards. They are a better reflection of my work at this time. Pick up son's friend. Daughter stays home to catch her ride to the theater. Drive to Lancaster to the galleries. As we are parking I realize that I may have neglected to feed daughter her dinner. Nothing I can do about it now. We stopped at the Lancaster Literary Guild and let the boys see an exhibit of portraits of authors using calligraphy and their words as brushstrokes to create their likenesses.

The next stop was the YWCA where my paintings and the paper dolls were exhibited. The room looked great. Considering the place was not an art gallery by design, the staff did a great job highlighting the works. They had a great variety which really worked together as a statement of Sexual Violence Prevention. I was mesmerized by many pieces, especially Mary Lou Weaver Houser's wall hanging that was used as the exhibit centerpiece. It had such a spiritual presence. I was pleased that so many people approached me to tell me how moved they were by the exhibit of paper dolls, which were strung along a clothes line and attached with tiny clothes pins--a device that allowed viewers to see both sides of the dolls. Because they are in an African drumming ensemble at their middle school, the boys had come along with us specifically to see the African dancers and drummers. Their performance was later, so we strolled over to the Lancaster Museum of Art to take in the Maurice Sendak exhibit. How much fun. I had wanted to see the exhibit when it was at the Jewish Museum in New York. I was pleased that it came to me instead. Maurice Sendak has always been a favorite of mine. He never dumbs down a tale for kids. Some people have called his stories inappropriate, but I find them to be perfectly tuned into a child's thought process and questioning mind.

Back at the YWCA, we saw the first round of the African Dance. Janet Peck's dancers and N'Bonye drummers were wicked good! I may just join their drumming weekend in May. Do I have a free weekend? But my interest was not the wonder of the evening. My normally reticent 13-year-old son voluntarily joined the dancers for a dance he knew. His friend was more reserved, but I told him I would dance if he did. The three of us danced with the three "African" goddesses. Had there not been an audience, I would have been content to dance with them all night. I must get myself to a class! Add Janet to the list of women who inspire me. She goes to Guinea, attending camps and performing, for two months a year to study her craft. And a shout out to Tammi Hessen and her drumming. (Turns out we were rivals in high school field hockey and track.) I think I need to clone myself, to experience all of the arts out there. These women rock, and I so enjoyed seeing them consecrate the space with their music and dance while my artwork was hanging as backdrop. A great way to end what had been a very full day of arts appreciation and participation.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Three Cups of Tea

Some time ago, the minister at our church gave a sermon on the book Three Cups of Tea. Having just finished the book, I can see now why proselytizing is the byproduct of having read this text. It is like you want to stand on the rooftops and shout AMEN! but you are in such awe of this man's story that you almost shake your head at it all. It is funny that our minister chose to proclaim this book to the heavens though, because ours is not a proselytizing tradtion. Who are we in the West to say our way of praying is better than yours? In my mind, I can't draw the line between religious conversion and imperialism. Social action? Sure. Humanitarian aid work? Yes, but not in the name of trying to make you assimulate. And that is part of the lesson in this gem of a book. It defies labels and has had mass appeal among people of all religions, ethnicities, stances on war, politics, age, and gender. It demonstrates that one person can make a world of difference by fighting ignorance with education and tolerance. How often can one story do all that?

Here's the gist...

Mountain climber gets lost. In his weakened state he stumbles into a remote village of Pakistan. They welcome him in and give him sustanance. He, in return, promises to give them what they need most--a school. He comes back to America and tries to raise funds. Sleeps in his car to save money...

The story continues with an amazing account of Greg Mortenson's mission to promote peace by providing balanced, secular (and therefore non-extremeist) education, particularly for women, in poor communities in Pakistan and post-Taliban Afghanistan. (This man will win the Nobel Peace Prize someday.) I have recently finished reading A Thousand Splendid Suns and found this to be a wonderful companion piece. One is fiction and one is truth, but they both offer insight into the lives of people in the volitile regions of the world. The politics. The religion. The lives of women.

Anybody with an ounce of humanity should read this book. I do not know one person who would not be touched by this. My only question is To whom should I lend out my copy first?

About the book

About Greg's organization, CAI

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Day's End

It's Wednesday night and for two nights I have wanted to see the conclusion of the two-part Medium on TV. I love that show. Somewhere, writers are having fights with their spouses and pausing to write it all down. I know this because the dialog is so realistic that sometimes my husband looks at me with that "that's the exact same argument we just had" look. What a bonding moment. But Angelica Houston and Patricia Arquette and my husband will have to wait until I finish TCOB. This morning I spent time working on the presentation for Fine Arts Day at my daughter's school next week. I am presenting as a painter, so I have to adjust the Powerpoint presentation I gave last year as a Creative Journaling Teacher. It's been a year since I've touched Powerpoint, so I had to give myself a tutorial. I wish I could say that I felt gratified having finished it, but I don't. It is just one in a series of things to check off my list. Go to bank. Go to orthodontist office to make payment and change insurance.

Moving on in my to-do list, I created a listing for my church's biggest fundraiser--its annual service auction. I have been persuaded by a friend to offer a book club evening with the author in my home. Six winners. Dinner. Wine. Discussion. Each will receive an autographed copy of my book. I am a little nervous about this. It seems presumptuous to offer up one's self as a prize. That, and I've already been so visible in the community that it seems that anybody who wanted to talk to me about my book already has. I found the listing difficult to write. After spending Monday on self-promotion, I am over trying to sell myself. Often, the biggest sale is to myself, because I have to teach myself that I am worthy of press.

After all the mind activity, I turned to the physical. It was quite breezy outside. Give me rain, but not wind. I procrastinated--loading the dishwasher and but stoppine short of putting away laundry. Finally, I knew if I didn't get out the door, I'd lose my window of opportunity. I grabbed my iPod and dialed to 33 minutes of torture with Grace on the iTread download. Really, it is supposed to be a 60 minute-workout, but I need to be realistic. My quest to run is two-fold. Fit into the dress I must wear as a maid of honor in a few weeks and finish a 5K (my first road race in two years) at the end of the month. (Did I tell you this was a crazy month or what?) As usual, Grace whipped my butt, but she had at least kept my mind off the blustery challenge.

I made it home about two minutes after my daughter's bus dropped her off. I had enough time to cool down and stretch, but not shower before I was off to get my son from track practice. As soon as I got home from that errand, I had to make leftovers for my daughter's dinner. While they were heating up, I cut condiments for the taco dinner the rest of us will have. Daughter is a day behind. She will get tacos tomorrow night. Mid-tomato, my son gave me a folder from his art teacher. Her son's school just had their Fine Arts Day. I was a presenter there last year, and we are modeling the program at my daughter's school after the one at John Beck Elementary. She hsent home the packet of information she received as a volunteer. Our volunteers are not lined up yet for our day next week. Eek! No time to panic. I ran the packet over to my neighbor who is on a committee with me. She was not home, but her oldest daughter was on the phone with her, so (yes, I am still in my sweaty running clothes) I stood in her entryway and talked to her while the girls' grandmother waves hello. I ran home to take my daughter to play practice.

Luckily, I have discovered a carpool from my corner of nowhere. This was my first shift as driver. I did not confirm, so when I showed up at the other girl's house, her mother was looking panicked with keys and cell phone in hand. (I find out later that she had left a message on my cell phone, but it wasn't on.) We had one final girl to pick up. Round trip--45 minutes. Husband was home from work by the time I made it home. I had seen so many people out walking that I asked him if wanted to go for a walk. Yes, but can we eat first, I am starving. Tacos seems like an easy meal, but they aren't. Too much prep work. I finished making dinner, and we ate. I ate like a ravenous woman which won't help with the bridesmaid's dress. My son also ate with gusto. This was his second dinner. He ate leftovers earlier with my daughter.

Husband and I left on our walk around the neighborhood. We observed the daffodils and remarked on how many people have already started mowing their lawns. We vowed to be last on our block to cave to the call of the grass. After our second trip around the block, my neighbor peeked her head out. She was ready to discuss volunteers. I was glad to see she was still in her painting clothes. (She is a faux painter.) I was still in my running clothes with a clean sweatshirt on top. I hoped it was enough to disguise the perfume of sweat with high notes of taco seasoning. This was not a planned meeting, but we had thought of last minute things we had not thought of before. Fine Arts Day is a new undertaking for the PTA. We want it to be a success for future years. So I am now home and waiting for one last email response from a possible volunteer. Maybe I'll just go watch Medium while I wait--or take a shower.

Venus and me

I sent out my newsletter on Monday. Included was an image of a "Power doll" I made for the upcoming YWCA exhibit. The doll was in the form of the Venus de Willendorf, a standard of survey art history courses. Well I sent one to an aunt. My dad was over there visiting my aunt and she must have asked him about the artwork on my newsletter. Dad told her that he didn’t think it was my artwork because he didn’t think I was in the habit of painting fat ladies. He asked me about this at my son’s track meet, and I said that the artwork was mine and that the image was that of an ancient fertility sculpture.
By his attempt at sarcastic wit, I could tell Dad was uncomfortable with this information. He said he'd have to relay the information to my aunt. Yikes. The thought of my dad's interpretation of my artist's statement on a piece of feminist art...scary. I immediately sent an email to my aunt to tell her myself.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with my chosen icon, here's my attempt at a little Venus lesson--at least what she has meant in my life and in my art. The theory is that this Venus was a fertility statue of some type, maybe not just for human fertility, but for that of the crops and the hunt which were so important to ancient people. Some say she was created at a time that was matriarchal. For artists (particularly female ones) she symbolizes fertility of expression. Creation, etc. For ecologists, she is an important symbol as the rotund “earth mother” who has also been under assault. She is appropriate as a “power doll” figure for the YWCA exhibit. There has been correlation of man’s dominion over the earth (rape of the earth) and dominion over women. There is a whole branch of feminism, called eco-feminism which tries to rectify these injustices by working on these two issues in conjunction with each other. In my paper doll workshops at the shelter, I encourage the residents to find symbol of power for themselves when making their dolls. While not many of the women reach to sources in art history, I think it is important to have a wide variety of images from different sources with which to relate and hold up as a beacon of self-empowerment.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April Madness

Ready to come along on a wild ride? I've remarked to friends that my color-coded refrigerator calendar resembles a Jackson Pollack painting for the month of April. I don't know what possessed me to include so much in so little time. But I want to share what it is like. So I am going to try to produce small blog entries to document this craziness.

Yesterday, I spent the day designing and sending my email newsletter, with a lengthy updating of my address book. I also a journaling workshop in the evening. I bisected the two with a yoga session and a quick dinner.

Cue April. Today is relatively mild. My daughter has play practice and my son has a track meet. In my world, I am preparing presentations for Fine Arts Day at my daughter's school and one for the Lancaster Book Festival. I wanted to go running, but had many weird interruptions including my son's best friend. He called from school to inform me that he had a half hour's detention and no way to get to his home which is five heavily trafficked miles from school. Maybe "A" needs his own color of splattering on my Pollack wipe-off board.