Sunday, August 23, 2009

More Color Play

Here's another one of the three pieces that I painted not too long ago and called, "Color Play I, II, and III". They were so much fun to paint!

They are small, about 8 inches by 6 inches, done in oil on cut pieces of pine board that I had painted with acrylic paints three or so years ago. I just painted freely with colors that spoke to me, mixing a little color on my palette, and letting some of the mixing happen as I pushed the brush around.

The first one (the one above) I didn't touch after my first round with oil paint. I added the blue splotch to the yellow-orange one (below) a few days later after the other colors had dried.

To see the third one of the trio, visit my post of August 15, "Taking on the 'Stay Small Brigade'". I love thinking of all three of them happily adding bright color to the kitchen of the person who bought them. It's one clear way I hope to contribute joy and color to the world.

Images: "Color Play I and III", each approx. 8" x 6", oil on board.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

"The Women's Crusade"

"The world is waking up to a powerful truth: women and girls aren't the problem; they're the solution," writes NY Times colunnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife (a former Times correspondent), Sheryl WuDunn. With women and girls lie the most direct and even cost-effective solutions to poverty, fundamentalism, and extremism around the world.

I'm just catching up with a story from last Sunday's Times, an excerpt from a book by WuDunn and Kristof to be published next month. The book is called Half the Sky, an allusion to a Chinese proverb: "Women hold up half the sky."

There's a brief but powerful, inspiring audio slide show available through the NY Times website. Here's a link to it. I promise you--though the subject matter is hard, these stories are success stories, full of hope, that remind me of the power of micro-loans to women (and a few good men, for sure) in developing countries. If you want to read the whole article, here's a link to that: "The Women's Crusade."

Friday, August 21, 2009

Water and Sky

The other day, one of the hot ones, I finally went swimming for the first time in weeks, maybe even months. First there were the cool, rainy weeks of June and July that made swimming in the ocean not so appealing. Then, just as the weather improved, came my broken foot.

I'm still nursing my stress fracture, but when the heat and humidity got to be too much, I asked Anna to drive me down to our neighborhood beach (I usually walk). I still had to cross a grassy stretch and descend the 44 steps to the beach.

But it was SOOO worth it. The tide was high in the evening that day, so we went down after an early dinner.

The water temperature was perfect. Warm enough to be inviting, with enough cool spots to really bring your body temperature down.

I'm not an ambitious swimmer; I don't do laps or distance or anything like that. I simply love to swim out far enough to feel I've "cleared the land"--to where when I roll over and loll on my back and paddle around "old lady-style" I feel like a small, human-shaped boat, cast off from shore.

I love the sensation of floating, held up by the water and staring at the sky. Just me, water, and sky--and of course, air, clouds, breezes, bugs, and other people around me. And back on shore, the rim of trees, sand, rocks.

We stayed until we felt sufficiently cooled off--as if the coolness had penetrated more than just skin deep. A true, refreshing cooling down. Nothing quite like it.

Perhaps because I've had so few swims this summer, it seemed all the more perfect and blissful.

Image: "September Sky toward Portland," oil on canvas, 2008. SOLD

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Taking on the "Stay Small Brigade"

Last week I was preparing for my first solo art show--an event I called an "art show, sale, celebration"--not in a gallery but at a friend's house. Even without the pressures of a "real gallery," getting ready for this show was a big deal for me. It was a huge opportunity to choose to show up as fully as possible. . . or not--since to speak of choosing implies there's another option!

On three prior occasions I've had a couple of small works included in large, eclectic, and wide open (as in, non-juried) group shows. But I've usually not even thought to tell my friends about them, let alone invite them to see for themselves.

This time was different. This time I invited a considerable group of friends and neighbors, and my host invited some of her friends, too. This time there would be no one else's art alongside mine (other than the art Sarah already has in her home). This time people who know me would be looking at my artwork and even deciding whether or not they might want to purchase some of it.

I did pretty well with looking through my surprisingly large collection of paintings, most of them painted in the past twelve or thirteen months. Even I was astonished at how many I have tucked away and how much selecting there was to do to arrive at a group of paintings I wanted to show.

Much of my work is in oil on either stretched canvas or wood panels, though a sizable minority are small works on gessoed paper. I took about ten of the latter to Art House Picture Frames in Portland to be matted.

What posed the biggest challenge to me--and where the "Stay Small Brigade" launched its fiercest fight--was the pricing! I was challenged not only by the multi-layered question of how to put a dollar figure on art, and a whole host of related issues: who gets to decide what's art and what isn't? who gets to decide what's valuable art and what isn't? how do you even begin to measure the monetary value of something so subjective and so unquantifiable as a piece of art?

Beyond these broad questions, I was really pushed to the wall by having to decide how to price my own art, which is of course related to valuing my own energy, time, vision, and work. And to trusting myself to arrive at prices that felt right or at least good enough.

An unexpected development raised the bar on all of this. When Graham Wilen of Art House Picture Frames called to tell me my matted pieces were ready and I asked him what I owed him, he said he was wondering if I'd be open to trading one of my pieces for his matting work. That was a big boost right off the bat--just to know that someone who handles a fair amount of art was interested in one of my pieces!

The next day when I picked up the work and learned what was the actual charge for the Graham's work, I couldn't imagine that he considered my small painting to be of equal value. I even had to ask him outright in very plain language to be sure I wasn't misunderstanding. He considered my piece to be worth more than twice what I was thinking I'd ask for it!

I arrived home from his shop with a whole new delightful dilemma! Would I accept this beautifully timed invitation to rethink the value of my own art, or would I stick with "staying small," in essence aiming for the lowest possible prices just a hair above giving my art away?

In many ways there really was only one choice--to take a leap forward, with gratitude for this well-placed nudge, and change all the prices I had been imagining. And that's when the Stay Small Brigade really showed up, too.

First I felt just plain frozen, a clear sense of conflict residing in my body. When I probed the conflict, it was rather basic: stay "safe" with the status quo (static and status kinda go together, don't they?) and keep the prices low, or dare to live a little bigger and bolder and raise them.

The Stay Small Brigade's arsenal consists almost entirely of thoughts: "Raise the prices, and no one will buy anything." "How could you possibly consider asking more in this economy?" "If you price your art higher, everyone will think you're full of yourself." "You're getting too big for your britches!" "Who do you think you are, daring to believe in yourself like this?!" and on and on.

Of course such thoughts bring with them physical manifestations--such a burden! So much tension! I knew I would raise my prices--after all, in order to be honest I had to label the one work to be traded as "SOLD" at the price that Graham was willing to pay, and it only made sense to adjust my other prices accordingly.

After a day of rumination laced with fear, I began to feel rather amused by the SSB's tactics, and by the essentially bottomless nature of its thought arsenal. Neutralize one thought, and three more would pop up! Amused curiosity and eventually laughter proved effective antidotes. Clearly this was just going to be part of the landscape, and I was just going to have to choose to keep going regardless. Which I did.

I totally enjoyed the evening. It was fun to see friends and neighbors, and to meet Sarah's friends. And whether our guests bought something or not, they were still seeing my work! I rarely worried about the prices (though I did tell the story of Graham's trade a few times), and I sold five pieces that night, and five more small ones the next morning!

Of course it didn't take long for the Stay Small Brigade to start launching its next assault: ("Don't you dare imagine this kind of success will ever happen again!" "This was probably just a fluke." etc. etc.). But I've learned a little about how to manage that crowd.

Image: "Color Play II", 8" x 6", oil on wood. SOLD!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lessons of a Stress Fracture

"It's just a tiny stress fracture," I heard myself saying on several occasions to people who asked about the Aircast I'm hobbling around in these days. "There's a really small crack in a really tiny bone on the bottom of my foot. I could barely see it in the X-ray."

The truth is, I had lived with and walked on this stress fracture for more than a week before even calling the orthopedist's office for an appointment. I knew weird and uncomfortable things were going on in my foot, especially when I was walking for exercise, and especially doing the hilly part of the neighborhood, and at the end of the day.

I thought it had to do with my new sneakers, just a few weeks old, purchased to replace my beaten-down old ones and to support my increased walking routine. I had even thought of going back to the athletic shoe store rather than the doctor to see about some different insoles for the shoes. David was the one who nixxed that idea and suggested I really ought to call the doctor.

Even so, I saw no reason to insist on an appointment right away; after all, it probably just had to do with my new shoes, right? So I waited for an appointment in a couple of weeks and kept on walking. Only I started to find my foot hurting enough at the end of each day to start elevating it and applying ice.

I know it may sound kind of stupid, but I have to say it took me more than a week after seeing the X-ray and learning I had a stress fracture, more than a week of acting as if the Aircast meant I could still do most everything I usually do, only a lot slower, before I realized this wasn't working at all. My foot still felt terrible, especially at the end of the day. Some days I even thought it felt worse than before.

So then I backed up a bit and took stock, checked in with myself more honestly. Here's the part that may sound really stupid: for more than a week I acted as if the more important half of the term "stress fracture" was the word "stress" rather than the word "fracture", as if a stress fracture is more about stress (subtext: and only wimps get over-stressed just from walking more--I mean, please!) than about a broken bone. I even looked it up on "Web MD"!

Here's what my computer's "New Oxford American Dictionary" says about "stress fracture": "a fracture of a bone caused by repeated (rather than sudden) mechanical stress." It's really about the way the fracture happens rather than any value judgment on the fracture itself or on the character of the sufferer! (If I worked in medicine, would I be less quick to read moral content into a diagnosis?)

Ever so slowly I began to take that in. Every so slowly I realized that if I don't honestly pay attention to my foot and patiently listen to what it tells me, whether I like those messages or not, I am only going to delay the healing process and likely increase my frustration with not being able to walk and move around easily outdoors (and in) for weeks to come.

Whether I feel like a wimp or not because my bone broke while walking in my own neighborhood--rather than, say, falling from a rock climb or (as Bekah a few years ago) in a dramatic landing while dancing--is of no concern to my foot! And of course it's a big waste of time and energy anyway.

Happily now after a couple of days of listening better, of not asking too much of my foot to begin with, of adding an ace bandage to its support system, and of putting it up several times a day rather than only when it throbs I can actually believe that it might heal eventually!

How lovely to know that "pushing through pain" is not always the best option! How much more content I feel to be functioning more as a friend of my still amazing and irreplaceable body than as an adversary.

So it took me a while to learn these perhaps obvious lessons. That just gives me the chance to learn another one--not beating myself up over it. Better just to enjoy the hidden benefits of not being very able to handle those trips to the cellar to do laundry, and other assorted pleasures!

And maybe it's time to break out the vari-colored Sharpies to decorate the bland, grey Aircast.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Razzle Dazzle: Eat Your Raspberries NOW

If ever there were a food that wants to be enjoyed immediately, it's the raspberry. Practice delayed gratification with this fruit, and you may end up disappointed with nothing worth eating!

I don't know much about fruits from the tropics or other parts of the world, but in my New England world, raspberries are the most perishable and most precious of treats. Perishable like the "manna" that was given to the Hebrews as they wandered in the wilderness: if I remember correctly, what they didn't eat on the day it appeared went rotten. It was not to be hoarded or saved for the next day's provisions; this was a one-day-at-a-time gift.

But unlike manna, which I picture (rightly or wrongly) as being fairly bland in color and not exactly dazzling in flavor--like dough or paste!--raspberries are wildly, lusciously colorful, going through several different hues of red to end up where they do. And that intense burst of flavor, a perfect match for the color of the "flesh" and juice--there's nothing quite like it!

Last week the first substantial wave of raspberries were ripening in our small, untidy backyard patch. (The realtor who showed us our property on a February day eighteen+ years ago told us the raspberry patch was a rose garden. What a treat to discover otherwise when summer rolled around!)

It also rained last week; sometimes it rained a lot. And it rained something like every other day. I tried to stay mindful of the rain, picking ripe berries when I knew rain was coming, and then picking again a day later after the sun had come out and the newest berries had had a chance to dry out.

At the time I was the only one at home who even likes raspberries, and I couldn't possibly eat them all myself (when that first wave ripens, it's a lot! like a quart!). Besides, I had promised Anna I'd try to make one of my trademark pies for us to enjoy when she was home again.

But all the moisture in the air, the house, and the berries made them even more perishable and more susceptible to mold and mildew. And just to complicate things, fruits flies had made their seasonal debut at our house, and they were quite interested in the raspberries, too. Keeping the razzies covered to keep out the flies only made them more vulnerable to spoiling. I hate to confess that I ended up tossing quite a few rotten raspberries that went bad before I could eat them or cook with them.

I also hate to confess that eating and enjoying them NOW, really allowing myself to pick and eat them right away rather than try to gather and save them, challenges me (in a good way), goes against the grain of various old tapes and programming. Maybe it's partly being geared toward maternal providing, partly old tapes about the vices associated with instant gratification. Maybe it's some very very old hunter-gatherer instinct gone awry in a "gather-then-hoard" direction.

Whatever it might be, I'm open to letting raspberries teach me differently! To accept their invitation to savor them when they are ripe and ready, and not a moment later. To learn to relax, lighten up, and let myself indulge a little! To receive them as a beautiful, luscious, delightfully colorful and tasty gift--gratefully!