Saturday, July 31, 2010

Stopping by Fields on a Sunny Morning

This morning while driving home from Freeport, after leaving Bekah for her summer job at J Crew, which was after leaving David in Pownal to embark on another trip to Labrador, I made an impulsive decision to pull over beside a meadow full of Queen Anne's lace, goldenrod, clover, and other assorted wildflowers and grasses.

For weeks I've walked by the blooms in various neighbors' gardens-- daisies and daylilies, bee balm and coneflowers, Siberian and Japanese iris (way back in June and early July!), and I've thought about coming back without the dog and equipped with pen, pencils and a sketchbook to draw.

And have I actually gone back to draw? Not once.

So today when I noticed myself yearning toward the meadow and thinking, "Hmmm, I'd love to come back here and draw--or find some other similar place near home," I caught myself. Why not just stop and draw, right now?

At least this time I was a little bit ready. I had hastily stuffed a bottle of water, a sketchbook and some water soluble colored pencils in an old backpack, just in case I decided to go somewhere to draw and doodle. So I pulled over, parked, and got out to draw.

Never mind that I hadn't thought to put in any sunscreen. Never mind that I couldn't remember where I'd left my favorite sun hat and had grabbed one of David's many hats that didn't really fit me. Never mind that the pencil I had tossed into the backpack came out with its lead broken and I had no sharpener with me.

Sitting on a log on the edge of the meadow just off the side of the road, with my paper on my lap and broken-leaded pencil in my hand, I remembered what I've always loved about drawing outside. I remembered a big part of why I had found so much delight in painting outdoors two years ago, my first summer painting with oils. (And yet I haven't actually painted outside since the fall of 2008--for reasons that both embarrass and sadden me.)

To state what may seem obvious, when drawing or painting outside, there's so much more going on than what I see with my eyes. So it's not just about "capturing what I see." There's the sun's heat on my skin, the movement of breezes on the back of my neck and the hairs on my arms and legs. There are all those little noises of insects and the chattering and callings of birds, mingled with the sighings and stirrings of leaves and branches. The shifting of light and shadow, the swaying of blossoms on their wiry stems. The whole dynamic symphony of life that's way bigger than me and yet that encompasses me and sets my heart singing, delighted to be alive, "a bride married to amazement" (Mary Oliver). So there's ecstasy, too. Every day garden variety nature-inspired ecstasy.

As I write this, I am reminded of something I copied down from an article about the Maine painter Lois Dodd: "Nature is a wonder," she said. "There is nothing more wonderful than going outside and being outside all day, and just watching stuff. It's just a good way to spend time. It's probably the way fishing is to people who go fishing. Just go out there. You are working, observing and thinking, and you feel like you haven't wasted the day because you have been in it."

An active, grateful participant.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Suze Orman and Me

OK, so I lied. But I didn't mean to. At the end of my last post I said that in my next one I would share something I wrote recently about drawing. But now there's something else I want to write about. I am sure I will get around to the drawing post some day.

Meanwhile, I never thought I would say and say truthfully what I am about to say: yesterday I actually picked up and voluntarily started to read a book by Suze Orman. I don't even like Suze Orman! Not that I know her personally, of course. But I don't like her perky blonde perfectly put-together appearance beaming successfully on TV or from the covers of books. And I suppose I don't like her sort of know-it-all ways about money, either, even if she has learned it the hard way.

I've read one or two of her articles in O magazine, and without fail I feel worse after reading her advice than I do before. (Ignorance is bliss?) Without fail, she leaves me feeling inadequate. Like a failure with money. Ashamed.

Let me correct my language here: she doesn't leave me feeling that way. I feel that way in response to reading what she has to say. Sometimes because I don't even have or don't think I have even ten spare bucks, let alone the quantities she talks about saving or investing. I feel inadequate, like a failure, ashamed when I read what she writes.

No wonder I'd rather avoid seeing her perky, blonde, perfectly put-together face and body. I suppose I could close my eyes and listen to her, but I've never even tried to listen to her. I have no idea what her voice sounds like. I'm happy with this arrangement.

But this morning I actually felt a small tingle of excitement when I picked up her book Women and Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny. A teacher of "The Basics of Starting a Business" in the Women, Work and Community program recommended the book highly, saying: "It will change your life."

So even though I don't like Suze Orman (I mean, really. Is her name pronounced like Suzie or is it Suze, to rhyme with snooze?), and even though just seeing her face on the cover gives me the creeps, I did get a copy of her book through my favorite local library at the University of Southern Maine. I felt virtuous for doing even that much--looking up and requesting the book on line, then driving to Portland a few days later to pick it up.

I think I may have opened the book slightly in the first week I had it--not a full-bodied opening, but a casual kind of lift the cover at an angle and glance at a page or two sort of thing. And then I rested on my laurels, con gratulating myself for being willing to obtain a book by Suze Orman and to hold it in my hands. And that's all I did with the book for more than a week.

So what made me decide to pick it up yesterday and start to read it?

Two words: Cash Flow.

Cash Flow? Yup. Cash Flow.

Wednesday in the Business Basics class, for the first time in my life someone actually explained to me how to create a cash flow projection and how to track actual figures in a ledger. You read that correctly.

I am fifty-six years old; I have reconciled my bank accounts for most of the years I've had them; I have stared at (and sometimes asked questions about) countless church budget reports at countless church vestry meetings, and this is the first time that anyone has ever explained to me what I was looking at and how one might arrive at such numbers. And I suppose it's only fair to add that I have never asked anyone to explain it to me, either through embarrassment at not knowing or simply from not wanting to know.

So when the teacher of the class said, "It's just like when you set up your family budget, same idea," I laughed a little to myself at the strange humor of it, which was better than simply hanging my head in shame.  "What family budget?" I might have quipped but didn't.

The teacher, full of enthusiasm for her subject, even waxed poetic! "The numbers in your cash flow record are singing the song of your business! They are telling you a story."

"How nice," I thought, "if you know the language."

Best of all, when it came time in class for us to do the numbers ourselves with the fictitious example of Sue and her Threaded Needle sewing business, Eureka! I got it! I had a chance to flex my underused math muscles and give it a whirl, and in the process I discovered two things:

First, it wasn't half as distasteful as I thought it would be.

And second, instead of feeling ashamed or like a failure, I actually felt empowered. I felt competent, or at least sniffed the potential for competence in an area I had never imagined I would. I had learned something new (often a pleasure in itself), and I had experienced the exhilaration of hope.

Hope that I might actually be able to do this, to make this happen for myself as I get clearer and clearer about what kind of business I am offering, and perhaps some day to help make this kind of empowering shift happen for other women.

I felt as if I had been to the gym (I don't often go to any gym) and had had a good workout. As if I had used muscles in a good way and had released a flood of endorphins and was now basking in the afterglow. And I was ready for more.

So with the exhilaration of hope I opened a book by Suze Orman and started to read it. I will keep you posted on how it goes.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Jump Starting

Looking at the date of my last post, I can see lots of time has passed. Two whole weeks, in fact. Wonder what I was doing that kept me from blogging for two weeks. . . .

At first I was absorbed in getting some work ready to hang at the Freeport Community Library, part of the group "Artists and Artisans Contributing Together." We hung our work last Tuesday, the show's opening reception was Wednesday (thanks for coming, all of you who did!), and the paintings will remain on view through August 28.

And after that? My blog silence was certainly not for lack of ideas of things to write (if anything, just the opposite--so many times during the day of thinking, "Oh! That would make a good blog post!" or, "Oh! there's another great first line for a blog entry," often not anywhere near my computer, then losing track of these momentary flashes of potential genius, and . . . . You know the rest.

Actually, much as I hate to admit it, I've also been struggling with a relapse into Big Blog Project kinds of thinking. Thoughts like, "OK, you have to decide and decide right now whether this is an "artist's blog" or a "potential pieces of a book blog" (a sure way to kill the ease and delight of blogging with a primarily playful spirit) or a "whatever odd thing you feel like writing blog."

I guess for the time being it's the last one in the list--some days primarily an artist's blog and some days primarily a "whatever I feel like writing today" blog--the blog of someone who is still finding her way.

I finally decided it was time to jump start the blog by simply writing something, anything, just to get going again.

And in my next post I am going to publish something I wrote for my friend and fellow writer (also writing/creativity coach and writing teacher) Raye Tibbitts to use in an on line newsletter. My piece is about drawing. Just so you know.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Yellow Wall

"The Yellow Wall", c 2010, Sukie Curtis, acrylic on sheetrock

A few days ago I started to beautify a really gross, never-been-painted sheetrock wall inside our garage, one that we and visitors to our house pass by numerous times a day going in and out our back door. From the start I decided that I wasn't going to worry about the "rules" of proper wall-painting (things like taping and "mudding" over the sheetrock seams, for example). Since it was just a wall in our garage, and since it was seriously grubby, stained, gross, and ugly, I felt totally exempt from having to do things really well, because no matter what I did, it was going to look better than it had.  A perfect project--no fail!

I did scrub the wall, twice even, and primed it--even that was a huge step in the direction of attractiveness. I added bits of sample yellow paints to the primer to tint the wall so that I might need fewer coats of paint. And it worked.

So first there was a somewhat mottled yellow wall of various hues. Then I decided on which of the yellows I liked the best for the primary color and got a pint sample made. It was way more than enough to cover the wall, so now I'm looking around for something else that wants to be yellow!.

When I first dipped the roller in the pan of yellow paint (Benjamin Moore's "Amarillo") and started to roll it on, I felt a surge of elation! It was so much fun spreading that deliciously happy color on the gross garage wall. I found myself imagining being a therapist recommending yellow paint as a cure for melancholia, and a shrink taking out her script pad and actually writing out Benjamin Moore "Amarillo" ("Sunshine" would work well too, and "Yellow Rain Coat," and ...), perhaps even with the pigment codes. Finding a grubby old wall might have to be part of the prescribed therapy, too.

The second day I painted on some large and small rectangles of other colors, adapting a design I had seen in a book but not really feeling excited about what it looked like. Plus I didn't really know why I was copying someone else's design rather than trusting myself to come up with one that I liked. So day two ended with me feeling not so excited and elated about my yellow wall project, and day three I didn't try to do any more to it. I suppose it was something of a furlough day. I did think off and on about painting over the rectangles from the day before--reverting to solid yellow.

Yesterday, being the Fourth of July, I opted out of some of our neighborhood's traditional Independence Day activities and chose instead to stay home and paint. I wasn't sure if I was going to paint the yellow wall or a smaller painting on canvas. But when I found myself alone in the house, the wall beckoned. The wall and a small flower arrangement that David and I had bought at the Farmers Market on Saturday.

With a combination of impish delight and a noticeable confidence in my drawing abilities (as if all the sketch book drawing I've done has led me to feel pretty "sure-footed" with a drawing implement--at least when I'm in the right frame of mind), I took out one of the new Sharpies I bought recently.

"I can draw on the wall with a Sharpie, a permanent marker!" I noted to myself. (And I could have added, "And there's no one to tell me not to!"

I don't remember if I ever drew on a wall when I was little. I think I did some unauthorized scribbling in books, but walls? I doubt it. To take out a permanent marker with the clear intention of drawing on a wall gave me another burst of delightful energy! Like a second childhood, or the childhood I never dared to have!

I held the vase of flowers in my left hand and drew quickly with my right hand--not every single stem and leaf and bloom in the arrangement, but enough to give the sense of a bunch of flowers. Sometimes the lines were mere squiggles, not really flower-shaped at all, but I could feel the flowers, leaves, and stems none the less.

When I'd finished drawing, I took a short break, then returned with colors of paint and some smaller brushes to jazz things up a bit more. I stopped when I felt I was finished (and I might do one or two small things, but for the most part, I do think I was finished yesterday). So I took up the blue Sharpie again and signed my name (deliberately largely) and dated the wall, July 4, 2010.

I had such fun, I think I'm ready to do another wall.