Saturday, December 24, 2011

Night of Radishes! Holiday joy! painting radishes

Radishing, oil on canvas, © 2011, Sukie Curtis

Yesterday a friend and fan of my paintings sent me a link to the morning's installment of the "Writer's Almanac," Garrison Keillor's daily NPR program, which had noted that last night was the Night of Radishes, Noche do Rabanos, in Oaxaca, Mexico! 

Here's the brief description: "Tonight in Oaxaca, Mexico, folks will be celebrating the Noche de Rabanos, the Night of the Radishes, and the zocalo [public square] will become the scene of a huge exhibition of figures carved from radishes. These are not the familiar little round vegetables that are eaten in salads--these are heavy, long, contorted roots that grow up to two feet in length and can weigh as much as ten pounds." They are carved into nativity scenes and other holiday decorations for display in the square.

My friend added: "I like your radishes better!" Which of course brightened my morning, just as radishes often do. 

I've taken a radish inventory recently, and I'm almost embarrassed to admit just how many radish paintings I have around in various states--from totally finished to almost to not at all. Three radish paintings are hanging in gallery shops (at Artascope Studios in South Portland, Maine and at Yarmouth Frame Shop in Yarmouth, Maine), and there are several more at home with me! I may have to name this the Year of Radishes!

My latest large painting, very nearly but not quite finished, also features radishes in a jumble of other objects--a French pottery vase, a large tin of olive oil, wine bottle, piece of fabric, and the rectangles of other canvases. Here's a peak at it:

The Way Things Hang Together, © 2011, Sukie Curtis

Anyway, the real point of this blog post is to wish you the delight and joy of radishes this holiday season.

May you and your loved ones have a joyful and peaceful Christmas-tide and/or Hanukkah and a very happy New Year!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Artful Holiday Giving (shameless commerce division): Art, Painting, holidays

IMG_0239.JPGRadishing, 8" x 10", oil on canvas
'Twas six days before Christmas, and all ‘round the place
the thoughtful delayers were starting to pace.
"Yikes! I've done nothing!" was heard here and there.
"If only I'd purchased those radishes or that pear!"
IMG_0120.JPG Pear on Yellow, 8" x 8”, oil on wood
OK, maybe that's a bit of a stretch. But just in case you're still wondering what to do for a special gift or two, I am happy to wave a joyful banner for giving art. 
And to offer a few suggestions, from very small to medium to large. At the very small end, I have a fresh, new batch of note cards:  a set of six different images (or your choice of six) with envelopes, wrapped with red ribbon. 
There are also several small paintings by me (and lots of other lovely art, jewelry, balsam pillows, and more!) at  Artascope Studios at 352 Cottage Road, South Portland. They are open 10 to 6 daily until Christmas.
Other small to medium-sized paintings can be found at Yarmouth Frame Shop and Gallery at 720 US Route One in Yarmouth.
And then there's what's at my house--from notecards to small paintings, to some large ones! Such as...
IMG_0049.jpgIn the Garden, 30" x 24," oil on canvas, framed
From now through December 31, 2011 I am offering family and friends (that's you!) 10% off any paintings purchased from me at my home. (Please note: this offer does not apply to purchases made at either Artascope or Yarmouth Frame Shop.)
If you'd like to stop by to see what's at my house, let me know! If you live too far away to do that but would like to know what I have, call or email me, and we can go from there.
Wherever you find yourself this day, I wish you a joyful holiday season! And my thanks for the many ways you have supported me and my art-making this past year.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Gone Radishing Again: painting, radishes, colors, delight

Radishing, oil on canvas, 9x12", © Sukie Curtis, 2011

More radishes! This time with a decidedly Christmas-y feel, now that we're in the season of red and green decorations. 

One fellow painter on Facebook commented that this could be "red boulders in a landscape;" do you see it? The red boulders aren't so convincing, but the radish foliage does have the look and feel of hilly shapes. And maybe even a streak of golden color in the sky!

This little painting--a real burst of color face to face--is at the Yarmouth Frame Shop and Gallery for the "Small Works" show that opens today. It is hanging together with three of my paintings of pears and a somewhat wacky and fun still life of a striped table with candlestick. 

If you live near Yarmouth (Maine, that is--not Massachusetts, Nova Scotia, or England, or . . . ), I hope you will stop by this afternoon or any other day before Christmas.

The gallery is at 320 Route One in Yarmouth. Today, Saturday, December 3, there's a reception from 4 to 7 pm. Art lovers of all kinds will be there--artists, lovers of artists, and lovers of art-lovers, too. And food!  and refreshments!

I would love to see you there. If today doesn't work for you, the gallery will be open seven days a week until Christmas.

Monday, November 21, 2011

When Death Comes: Mary Oliver, oak leaf shapes, oil paint, red leaves

Oak Leaf Shapes, oil on canvas, © 2011, Sukie Curtis (unfinished?)
Yesterday, on a very mild November day, with a gang of tufted titmice scolding us and nuthatches chattering from the overhanging branches of evergreens, we buried the ashes of my mother-in-law in a cemetery in South Weymouth, Massachusetts. This recent painting, inspired by an oak branch in a bottle, seems somehow appropriate to the occasion.

At the graveside, our prayers were accompanied by a psalm and Mary Oliver's poem "When Death Comes."

"When Death Comes"  by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common 
as a field daily, and as singular;

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my lie something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Painting Radishes 1

Small Square Radishes, oil on canvas, © 2011 Sukie Curtis

I paint radishes more than I eat them. That's just the way it is! 

I can hardly resist buying new bunches of them at the farmers market, even when I have an older bunch at home. But I've learned that they keep an impressively long time in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, and can be my painting models and muses many times over, though their greens go limp and eventually rot. 

Even then, the life force and the "urge" to live and create new life is so strong in them that in the dark and cold of the refrigerator drawer, old radishes will sprout vigorous new root hairs and even pale, spindly greens. They are built to live and flourish.

And to ravish the eyes: such lovely round, though not perfectly round, shapes! such whimsical, quirky tails! and such colors! 

These days radishes come in more than just shades of red, crimson, and pink; there's deep blue-violet, wild magenta, pale pink, and a blush creamy white. And if that's not enough, you can always make up other colors as you paint them! Why not?

Which reminds me: the collage artist and children's book author and illustrator Eric Carle has a new book out, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse. Carle calls it "an homage to the Expressionist painter Franz Marc." Carle was inspired at a young age by Marc's work when a teacher showed him his painting of a blue horse. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sneak Preview: Paintings, Yarmouth Art Festival

Radishes with a Peach, oil on canvas, 10" x 10"

In The Garden, oil on canvas, 30" x 24"

Peonies in a French Vase, oil on canvas, 12" x 12"
Here's a sneak preview of three of my paintings that will be on display and for sale at the Yarmouth Art Festival, October 19 to 22, sponsored and hosted by St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Yarmouth, Maine.

If you're in the area, please come by for the Artists' Reception with refreshments and live music (and live artists) on Thursday, October 20 from 6 to 8 pm.

The church-turned-gallery will be open Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 10 am to 6 pm, and on Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm. If you'd like to preview other pieces in the art festival, follow the above link to the "flickr" slideshow.

And if you don't want to wait for the show to open and you know you'd like one of these pieces before someone else gets a chance, let me know! A portion of the sales will still be given to St. Bart's community outreach.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Painting Make-over: Sharpie and More Paint!

Radishes, © 2011 oil (and Sharpie) on canvas

One of the great outcomes of teaching a class called "Expression in Paint" at Artascope Studios in South Portland is discovering what matters most to me in my own painting. What elements are (at least currently, since things do change) so essential to my own way of expressing myself in paint that I neglect them to my peril.

I can't say exactly how this has come about. It's a combination of slowing way, way down in order to watch what I do when I'm "not looking," by which I mean not over-thinking or over-editing myself. When I am trusting myself and whatever mysterious creative force it is that moves us all when we are open to it. That, and actually painting there in the class under different circumstances than at home; I paint a little differently there, and I'm still figuring out just how.

Some of my best (I think) paintings happen when I: 
  • paint over old paintings (what's underneath provides plenty of opportunities for happy accidents of texture and color combinations and things peeking through from beneath)
  • draw quickly over an old painting, either with paint or with black Sharpie marker to get my bearings and leave interesting marks showing through in places
  • use more paint (it's easy to get "stingy" with paint) and push it around, either with a palette knife or with a pretty stiff brush.
The Sharpie first entered my repertoire as an ally when I once drew a quick freehand sketch on a yellow-painted wall in my garage, and I found it exhilarating! 

I've been a bit timid about admitting my Sharpie use in painting, as if some sort of Painting Orthodoxy Police might get wind of it and, and . . . what? Ban me from the world of "real art?" 

It's as if I think my Sharpie usage might disqualify me from some unnamed, desired realm, or immediately confirm my illegitimacy as a painter. (I comfort myself with the thought that if Sharpies had been around in earlier decades, somebody who is now a famous painter--Picasso is usually my go-to guy--would probably have used one. Right? And if not, who cares?)

So here are some radishes painted over an unsuccessful semi-impressionistic attempt at fall foliage from a few years ago. 

One other observation: I held myself back from "correcting" myself as I went along. I resisted fixing things up to be more right and proper and "better" (realistic?) according to some left-brain critic. I think that's why it works as well as it does. 

These Radishes have already gotten lots of "buzz" from my Facebook supporters (thank you, all!). "Free and beautiful" is one of the comments that's easiest for me to remember and that I will carry with me for the rest of today.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

KISSing this Blog Hello Again

© Sukie Curtis, 2011, ink on paper

I know it's bad form (and just plain boring) for a blogger to comment on how long it's been since she has blogged, but sometimes it shocks me to see just how long.

And though I didn't grow up as a Roman Catholic (far from it, in fact, as a Unitarian!), I suppose it's my twenty-five-years-plus sojourn in the realm of Christian religious practices that accounts for my nearly automatic inclination to launch into a mock-confession:

Forgive me, readers. It has been . . . (fill in the appropriate number). . . weeks since my last post.

But enough of that.

Because I've made a decision to KISS this blog hello again. Meaning, I've decided that the way to blog more often is to Keep It Simple, Stupid, or maybe I could make that sound more friendly to myself and say, Keep It Simple, Silly. Or even, Keep It Simple, Sukie!

Rather than not blog because I have way too many ideas about what to say next, and don't know where to start, or how best to approach something (shades of near-perfectionism creeping in), I'm just going to post stuff.

Sometimes just a drawing from my almost-daily sketchbook. Sometimes a painting that I'm working on, posted even before it's finished. Sometimes things I'm thinking about making art or being an official empty-nester.

It seems possible, though I am not making any grand pronouncement here, that posting more often would actually help me to keep going better than posting less often. Get into a rhythm, make it no big deal, just part of what I do. That idea.

We shall see. And in the meantime, that image up there at the top is what's called a "blind contour drawing" that I did while teaching my class at Artascope Studios in South Portland. Maybe I won't even tell you what object it represents. Maybe you'd like to guess!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Showing Up with Paint

Peonies in a French Vase, © 2011, oil on canvas, 12" x 12"

"Are you willing to show up with your paint and just 'be' with whatever happens?" a coach once asked me years ago when I was feeling in something of a slump with my painting. I had internalized someone else's negative opinions about my paintings, handing over all authority (and responsibility) for my art-making in the process. I very nearly stopped trying to paint at all, but a deeper, braver, art-ward part of me wouldn't let me.

Mostly I had gotten stuck because I was afraid. Afraid of what? you might logically wonder. Some sort of blob of largely unchallenged fear.

Afraid of doing "bad" work (determined by whom?), afraid of not really trusting myself and painting in a straightjacket, afraid of not liking my own work, afraid of succeeding and failing, both--perhaps even at the same time!

But I at least knew I was willing to show up with my paint (and brushes, etc.) and just "be" with whatever happened. And I found that the more I did that, the less I worried, and the more I wanted to keep painting.

Writers and writing coaches often speak of the virtue of "just showing up"--of making a practice of showing up at your desk (or wherever you prefer to write) every day and writing something. Not waiting to be inspired. Not waiting until the stars seemed perfectly aligned and every other issue has been resolved.

And the same seems to hold true for painting as well (and, I imagine, for just about every kind of creative endeavor). 

These days I've been showing up with my paint several times a week, and it's amazing how many more paintings I have to show for it! (Of course it helps that many of them are smaller canvases, too.)

The image above is one of them. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

In the Garden with Paint

In the Garden, © 2011, oil on canvas

I delivered this painting yesterday to the Yarmouth Frame Shop and Gallery, just in time for their next show, "Dog Days of Summer," that opens Saturday, August 6. If you happen to be near Yarmouth, Maine on Saturday, come by (720 Route One) the Gallery for an opening reception from 4 to 7 pm. The show features work by thirty artists, so there's plenty of variety!

This painting started as a drawing back in June when the irises and peonies were in full bloom. I sat on our front steps just a few feet from the garden bed and drew several quick sketches. Here are two of the sketches:

graphite on paper, © 2011

graphite on paper, © 2011

It's pretty obviously that lines, shapes, and patterns of lines dominate my sketches (rather than worrying about shading, perspective, or creating the illusion of volume, for example). Contour drawings--following the edges of things--sometimes even without looking at the paper, are almost an every-day practice for me. I love "watching what happens" in the process of creating new patterns on the surface of the paper.

I've been trying to pay closer attention to my drawing-and-painting process, because I've been teaching a class at Artascope Studios in South Portland. Being able to understand and then to communicate my process to others has become more important! It is both challenging and very engaging.

As people often say, if you really want to know how to do something, teach it to someone else! 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ten Random Things about my Dad

I meant to write this yesterday, but I figure that only one day after Father's Day (which we didn't really celebrate in my family when I was a child, maybe because it hadn't yet gained official status) is good enough. I don't really know what my "ten random things" will be; this is a blogging adventure in which I trust I will find out.

1. My dad's birth and death were near each other, both geographically and on the calendar. He was born in a house barely half a mile from the house in which he died, the house in which I spent my whole childhood, where my parents and siblings had lived for several years before I was born. His birthday (and my parents' wedding anniversary) was June 1, his death day June 10.

2. My father whistled and hummed. A lot. His whistling was pleasant to listen to. His humming, which sometimes involved chewing his tongue if we was working hard on something, was charming to me, though not everyone heard it that way. He was kind of known in our small dead-end street neighborhood for his unique hum. I suppose it had a sort of droning quality--a little bagpipe-ish?

3.  Dad loved to sail. We lived near the ocean, and he tolerated a long commute to work and back for the sake of living near the water and being able to sail easily in summer. This was his time of year, I suppose--when long days allowed for a sail even after a day's work and the homeward commute. An evening sail sometimes became a moonlit sail, or even a moonlit drift, since the wind often dies in the evenings.

Photos of my dad as a very young boy often feature sail boats. In one he holds a model sailboat in his hands (he also is wearing a sailor suit, as is his older sister--clearly a fashionable item around 1920); in another he crouches by the edge of a pond, his father bends over behind him, as they launch a small boat (the same one?) into the pond.

4. Like me, he was the youngest child in his family. I don't know what that means exactly, but I sometimes think of us as having that kinship of being "youngests." I also share his blue eye color, along with my brother David, though Dad's and David's eyes may be more sky blue than mine.

5. My father had a temper, though I rarely remember it being directed at a person (others in my family may remember differently). Mostly at objects that weren't cooperating with his designs--such as when he attempted some sort of repair job. And at paying the bills. My dad did not like paying the bills, which in those days included courtesy accounts at the local grocery store, liquor store, drug store, etc. I imagine some of my own very mixed-bag of feelings about money might have something to do with that.

6. Speaking of my dad and money, one of my earliest memories of money has to do with a rudimentary magic trick my dad would play on us and for us--in which he would make a nickel disappear and reappear, from his sleeve or something. He would show me his empty hand, then "find" the coin behind my ear and produce it for proof. I like that memory of money magic better than the memory of his unhappiness when paying bills.

7. Dad was very bright, witty, and curious about the world, and was an avid reader of Scientific American, National Geographic, and Smithsonian magazines. He did the math puzzles in Scientific American. He was an electrical engineer and used math all the time, I suppose! If I asked him for help with math homework, he would usually end up reading the text book. He certainly did not simply give me the answers.

He played games with us when we were small children--"Trot Trot to Boston" and "This is the way the lady rides" on his knees. He said bedtime prayers with us and sang "Day is Done." Every night, I think, for quite a few years.

8. My father was a pretty complex person (aren't we all?). He could be charming and a great story teller, but I think he was not necessarily a happy man. Some of that no doubt stems from his own childhood and upbringing and family tree; some relates to the death of my oldest brother when he was not yet eight years old.

I know that many marriages suffer and even fall apart following the death of a child. My parents stayed married, but I have a feeling that my brother's death and my parents' grief, unaided by "modern" psychotherapy or understandings of the grieving process, sent tremors and fault lines through their marriage and our family. More than I yet fully understand, I think ours was a grieving family, or a family in which grief had gotten buried rather than being grieved in a healthy way.

In the shifting planes and plates of my childhood and my parents' marriage, I think my dad and I came to share another, harder to articulate, reality--to some degree we were both on the outside of my mother's inner circle of intimacy which became more exclusively centered on my sister.

9. I won't claim some pinnacle of "ideal dad" perfection for my father, though I think he was more present than many of the dads of his generation. For all his complexities, I do believe he loved me (and my mother and siblings) as best he could. I know that he cared about what I was up to, what I was thinking, what I hoped to do with my life.

Sometimes we talked ideas, like theology, but given that my thinking was not yet very nuanced or sophisticated, I can't say it was an full or even exchange. I have often wished my father were still alive to discuss things and enjoy discoveries with me--not to mention to meet David, Bekah and Anna; to see that I ended up ordained and then got "un-ordained," to see my paintings.

10. My father died thirty-two years ago when I was only twenty-five, meaning, I've now lived several more years without him physically present and alive than I lived with him. Given that I was twenty-five and headed to seminary and not all that good at acknowledging, let alone processing, "negative" emotions, perhaps I never really grieved my father's death. (Maybe I followed the family pattern and buried my grief rather than allowing it to be experienced, expressed, and to move through me!)

I realize some days that I feel hungry for traces of my father. I don't know how else to describe it. When I was helping to pack up my mother's condo to move her to assisted living, I felt as if I were on an archeological dig looking for artifacts of my dad--old photos, his handwriting on an envelope, a letter or postcard. It's not as if I set out to do that. It's more that I experienced that searching energy rising up in me unexpectedly, unbidden. Hoping for a tether. A tangible connection.

Maybe I am looking in the wrong kinds of places for the wrong kinds of "traces" of my dad. Maybe he's more present to me than I think, more a part of me than I know. I saw a recent photo of myself and was astonished to see my father's face in mine---all the more so because I've always thought I looked much more like my mother! Which doesn't mean I don't or shouldn't miss him still.

I do miss him still. Especially on a clear, sparkling day in June with a nice breeze perfect for sailing. Such was the weather on the day my dad died. I remember feeling an intense disjuncture between the horrendous hollow of grief I was feeling and the breath-taking beauty of the day. Thankfully it had also been that same kind of weather the day before dad died, and he had spent the afternoon sailing his boat.

PS. I am wishing I had a photo or two of my dad to add to this blog. Since he died long before the days of digital photography, I don't happen to have one in my iPhoto collection. Some day when I get one scanned, I will add it in.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ten Random Things about my Mother

Well, it's Mother's Day, and this morning I read a little piece that Caitlin Shetterly wrote about her mother for Oprah's magazine. (I didn't know Cait was now writing for Oprah, since I don't read O, but that's great for Cait!)

It got me thinking about things my mother always says, and it makes for a strange list, very much impacted by her diminishing memory. Our phone conversations (I call several times a week) are rather formulaic and predictable, unless I have some piece of unusual news to share that catches her interest for a few minutes.

A list of things my mother always or at least often says would include:

"The trees have gotten so big." (even if she has only been looking at these particular trees since January)

"Thank heavens for my word books!" (I agree--they give her something to do and keep her mind engaged; though the way she bends over them to see better doesn't help her over-all physical comfort.)

"I'm kinda tired." (which at age 92 is understandable)

"Well, you're nice to call." (This is one of her ways of saying good-bye on the phone. Or it's at least a prelude to the end of the call, which, with my mother, does not always involve the word "Bye." Sometimes she just hangs up when, I suppose, she feels finished and believes she has expressed some sense of closure. David has remarked for many years that he can tell it's my mother I've been talking to when the phone conversation seems to end rather abruptly.)

"Onward and upward." (This is another signal that she's ready to end the conversation. For me it carries a sense of the stoic perseverance that has kept my mother going. I'm not always sure that she wants to be alive or is enjoying her life, but she most certainly knows how to carry on and keep going.)

So that's five things she always says. Now how about five random things about her?

She likes Andre Rieu. (Sorry, I don't know how to put the accent on the "e" in Andre, but I know it belongs there.) This is something I only learned about my mother yesterday.

When I called my mother last night, she had been watching Andre Rieu on public TV and seemed nearly ecstatic about that! David and I often remark on the phenomenon of Andre's appeal to elders--we just don't get it. But I was glad yesterday that my mother had been enjoying watching and listening to him make music and engage with an audience. She sounded more animated than in most of my near-daily calls. (So, three cheers for Andre Rieu and what wikipedia calls his "melodramatic stage performances and rockstar demeanor!" He gives my mother enjoyable entertainment.)

She still makes her bed every day. Even if some days it is nearly noon by the time her bed is made, it is a foundation of her day.

She taught me how to bake bread--every year at Christmas-time she and my sister and I made yeast bread using a recipe from a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. (The Joy of Cooking was our cooking bible; Julia Child came along later.) I still make the same bread every year before Christmas--sometimes with my daughters, but  more often alone. It's called "Cinnamon Swirl Loaf" and is a basic hearty white bread with butter and eggs in it, and that wonderful swirl of cinnamon sugar.

She loved to garden and would still if she were more physically able and less sore and stiff. I often say (to myself) that by osmosis my mother taught me "the pursuit of beauty." So I suppose that even though she didn't paint or draw and didn't especially encourage me to do either of those (at least not that I remember), her aesthetic sense so present in her gardening lies somewhere behind my painting.

She knows how to persevere, how to keep going, in a mostly positive frame of mind, even if that frame of mind seems largely won by way of repressing rather than processing painful events and emotions. I imagine her many griefs and sorrows, as well as guilt, shame, and anger, largely lie buried in her bones and joints.  As much as my sister and I have at times thought that a compassionate, attentive counselor or therapist would be just the thing, she has never seen the point. That, too, is part of who she is.

Oh, I just thought of something she often says: "At least I still have my sense of humor." Which she does, even if I don't always appreciate her sense of humor as much as others seem to. Still, I'm glad she has it.

Friday, May 6, 2011

More News from Bekah in Kenya

Here's another installment in my daughter Bekah's blog from Kenya. As you will discover, this one is about her group's trip to Tanzania about a month ago.

Meanwhile, she and her group are now back on the coast of Kenya in the town (city?) of Malindi on the shores of the Indian Ocean. They will be there several days for the presentation of all of their Independent Study Projects--the culmination of research over the past four weeks.

And then preparation for departure and return to their home turf (reverse culture shock?). I imagine Bekah and her buddies are feeling very mixed emotions about nearing the end of these months in Kenya and returning home (though for Bekah, there's the added delight of stopping off in Paris on her way home).

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Art is for Mothers and May and...

Pink Door, Yellow Fruit, ©Sukie Curtis, 2011, oil on canvas

This painting is one of several that will be on view and for sale at the Yarmouth Frame Shop and Gallery at 720 US Route One in Yarmouth, Maine beginning this Saturday! If you are in the area, be sure to stop by for the opening reception between 4 and 7 pm on Saturday, May 7.

I am one of twenty-eight artists (!) whose work will be showing in the gallery for the month of May, and perhaps beyond. Lots of variety, lots to enjoy, lots to choose from.

And I have more at home. Perfect for an art-loving mother on Mother's Day or for a soon to be graduate or birthday . 

My latest series features more pears, some with other fruits and flowers. I love drawing and painting pears (and yes, eating them too, although sometimes they over-ripen and rot while still serving as my models!)

Here's a pear painting that is at the Yarmouth Frame Shop:

Pear, ©Sukie Curtis, 2011, oil on wood


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Mud Season in Nairobi: more news from Bekah!

I thought to check Bekah's blog this morning, knowing she has been back in Nairobi for a while (most recently from Tanzania). And I was pleased to find a new post!

There's so much going on--glimpses of Swahili lessons, what's big in the news in Kenya that barely earns a blip on the screen here, and what inspired this particular group of college students to have a sleep-over to watch The Sound of Music! (Question: do you consider "Do, Re, Mi" a "spiritual" song?)

Here's the link to Bekah in Kenya: Mud Season.

Now I suppose it's my turn to blog. You think?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

So, what's spiritual direction, anyway?

Sunflowers, Late September (detail), ©Sukie Curtis, 2011

So, what's "spiritual direction," anyway?

Spiritual direction is collaborative, personal detective work, or like a treasure hunt in which the treasure to be found is you--and the Spirit who dwells in the depths of you.

It is giving ear and voice to the conversation that your life keeps inviting you to have.

How is spiritual direction different from life coaching?

"Spiritual Direction" is the old-fashioned name for a practice that has been around for centuries (perhaps even millennia!) and yet is very, very contemporary. I think of spiritual direction as the ancestor of the much newer field of life coaching.

Both take place largely in the collaborative work of conversation--listening, asking questions, finding answers, focusing, zeroing in, listening some more, trusting the process to lead where it needs to. One-on-one consultations take place either in person or over the phone.

While the focus of spiritual direction is most often described in terms of one's own relationship to the Spirit, to God, or the spiritual dimension of life, I approach both life coaching and spiritual direction from the perspective that the primary focus is the client--her experience, her questions, her hopes, dreams, likes and dislikes, passions and fears. It is in those realities, not somewhere else, where the Spirit, the creative energy of life, or the "God who dwells within," is met and experienced.)

Spiritual direction is usually a long-term relationship, and sessions usually take place once a month. Life coaching may be more intensive, with more frequent sessions contributing to the support and momentum for reaching one's goals.

In addition, coaching enlists helpful tools to further focus on identifying and articulating goals and the inner resources one has for meeting them as well as the process of naming and being accountable for the steps to get there.

Compassionate support and accountability are part of both processes. Your own focus, desires, and intention--how you imagine what it is you are looking for--more than the name of the process, are what matter most. Simple practices, writing exercises, or other forms of homework also support the work.

Unlike many coaches out there, I don't promise to "change your life in six weeks!" and I don't follow a prescribed program. But I know that the work we can do together really makes a difference to help you hear and respond to what "calls" to you from within your own life and beyond it.

Who am I?

I was first trained in spiritual direction in 1990 and have supported women through this work ever since. My understanding and approach to the process have evolved considerably over the years. I am a former Episcopal priest; in 2008 I followed my own soul's "calling" to leave ordination behind after 24 years of ordained ministry. In addition to my work as spiritual director and life coach, I am a painter, writer, nature-lover, wife and mother.

I bring my painter's eye, my curiosity and keen observation, my poet's ear for language, my creative mind and playful spirit to the collaborative work of spiritual direction and life coaching. 

I draw from centuries of spiritual wisdom of various traditions as well as from the wisdom that arises between us as we work together.

I will help you hear your soul's unique language so that you may live more fully from your own truth, delight, and freedom.

To explore either spiritual direction or life coaching, I invite you to call (207-781-7320) or email me ( to set up a consultation of up to thirty minutes at no charge.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Progress Report: What do you do?

I realized this morning with a small jolt and a sliver of regret that yesterday was an important personal anniversary for me and that I'd forgotten to mark it in any way. I hadn't paid much attention to the date, and it just didn't really sink in until today.

What anniversary? The third anniversary of my "leap to freedom," otherwise known as the day I renounced my ordination and returned to the ranks of the vast majority of humanity as a blessedly ordinary human being.

On the first anniversary of this occasion, I chronicled the days before and after my renunciation ceremony in several different blog posts. There was the famous (and perhaps my favorite) story of the Two Books, and the story of The Day After.

Last year I told a fuller yet still condensed version of my journey from childhood to ordination and out the other side when I spoke one Sunday afternoon at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Portland. I posted the text of what I shared that day in four installments, each of them titled, "Upside-down and Inside-out." Here are the links to parts Two, Three, and Four. Just in case you are new to this blog, or you feel like reading what I wrote a year ago.

So, here I am, three years out of ordained ministry, and what do I have to say for myself? Where has the journey taken me?

There are so many ways to answer those questions, and I'm going to respond by answering still another question--one that I believe I've posted about before. The question I have most dreaded being asked (even more than the "Why did you quit the priesthood?") during the months of these intervening years. That most dreaded question has been: So what are you doing now? or, more simply, What do you do?

It's a question that has often found me feeling inadequate, even ashamed of my seeming lack of progress toward any sort of clear new "identity" to replace the one I had given up. By identity, I guess I mean "professional identity"--otherwise known as an occupation, a career niche, or even simply a temporary job, like, "I'm a barrista at Starbucks" or "I am working the phone bank at L. L. Bean."

There have been many times when I've felt that anything, any one clear specific answer would be better than the vague, amorphous nowheresville that has been my deep down, frank reply. "What do I do?" I ask myself, wait a few heartbeats, and come up empty. Then make up something to cover up my shame and embarrassment--either a lame joke or my best and clearly unrehearsed babbling answer. (The singer-songwriter, blogger, and women's coach Christine Kane once said that when we're in those in-between places, the ego, ever vigilant and out to protect us, is apt to advise us loudly and clearly: "Quick! BE SOMETHING! Anything! Anything's better than being nothing!" It takes great fortitude not to obey.)

Funny, I've often not felt that painting was a legitimate part of the answer, even though painting is something new, something joyful and energetic and true that has entered my life since leaving my ordination behind. (My painting life began in earnest barely a month before my ordained life officially ended.)

But things started to shift last fall. I at least began to have a rudimentary answer to the "What are you doing these days?" question. I gave myself a little preamble about living a "patchwork" life, stitching together a couple of different avenues of work for which I'm paid--some consulting, some writing, some spiritual direction, and my painting. That at least felt truthful and got me off the starting block, though my answer at times was still rather mealy-mouthed and apologetic.

When I told a friend of mine just after Christmas that I was "kind of a spiritual director and kind of a life coach," she said in her lovingly, humorously honest way, "You might want to sharpen that up a bit."

Little by little, sometimes feeling as if I'm clawing and scraping my way along a sheer rock face, I think I'm getting somewhere. Getting closer to being able to answer with wholehearted integrity-bordering-on-enthusiasm. My attempts to practice and hone an answer feel more genuine and less driven by ego-panic. (It's always easier in the privacy of my own writing than in the face to face moment. Guess I need to keep practicing!)

So here's where I am today in answer to the hypothetical question: What do you do?

I do many things! But I feel hugely blessed that I especially enjoy doing two kinds of work: First, I'm a painter, and I love giving people experiences of delight and celebratory energy through my paintings. And second, I'm a spiritual director and life coach, and I love helping women to connect more fully to their inner wisdom, truth and authority. I love helping women to listen for and pay attention to their soul's language and longings, to claim their passions and power, set goals and take the steps to reach them.

What a difference three years can make!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Yoni: Remedial Work

One of my Facebook indulgences is to play a slow-paced game of Scrabble with an old friend. I often wish I were more of a Scrabble regular--real-time Scrabble, that is, with the enjoyment of the lovely wooden tiles and actually holding letters in my hand while I search my imagination. But Scrabble on Facebook allows me some helpful cheating, like checking the dictionary, and being able to move letters around on the board without someone watching.

I learn new words this way, too, though I'm not so sure that my retention rate is all that hot. Today's new word, I trust, is different.

YONI. Having a blank "tile" in my lot, I was determined to find a four-letter word by adding one letter to the YON that was on the board, one that would also allow me to play a Triple Word at the same time. I tried several possible endings before the "I" and was surprised and curious that YONI was actually a word!

So, to the real dictionary I went. Sometimes it's simply not enough to know that something is a word that will work in Scrabble; I have to know what it means.

Do you know what YONI means? Maybe you do. Maybe I'm exposing my immense ignorance by not knowing. It's always possible that this is another glaring sign of the remedial work I have yet to do. Maybe I'm one of the last supposedly religiously-educated women on the planet not to know what a YONI is. The fact that my theological training was at a decidedly middle-of-the-road Episcopal (thereby decidedly Christian in outlook) seminary, not given to left-leaning explorations of things like feminist theology (such things were rather in their infancy when I was in seminary), nor to comparative world religions, explains part of this.

But I still marvel sometimes that I didn't do a better job of exploring these newer realms of theology or other faith traditions during the twenty-two years that I was ordained. A wee bit, via some of the women scholars who have contributed to (and still contribute to) unfolding the origins of Christianity and the realm of "historical Jesus" studies. And a wee bit of interfaith dialogue without much research to back it up.

When I was freshly retired from parish ministry, a step off into the unknown that David and I took together five whole years ago, I began to do what I considered "remedial reading." I followed my nose, more or less.

Joanna Macy, for earth-centered reflection. Starhawk, for pagan feminist thought. The Chalice and the Blade. The Once and Future Goddess. The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, in which old--very, very old, like 20,000 to 30,000 years old--artifacts and imagery fascinated me and awakened me to the kinds of religions that were around so long before the Judeo-Christian tradition I had learned so much about. I thirstily drank up the Venus figurines,  those voluptuous female shapes, and "sacred triangles" based on women's fertile, pubic regions.

I remember one day standing in the shower looking down at my not-so-toned-anymore middle-aged female body and realizing with a jolt that some places and some people long ago not only admired such shapes but associated them with God! With sacred energy and creativity.

And my eyes welled with tears as I briefly imagined how my daughters' outlook on themselves and their bodies might be so very different if they were growing up in one of those cultures where their bodies imitated the dominant sacred images of the surrounding community, its messages and media.

But I don't remember those books touching on the spiritual and theological geographies of India and beyond. (Old Europe and the Mediterranean were fascinating enough!)

Enter, then, YONI to my vocabulary.

My dictionary says YONI is pronounced with a long O and a long E sound. It's a noun (pl. yonis), from Hinduism, meaning "vulva, especially as a symbol of divine procreative energy occasionally represented by a circular stone. Compare with LINGAM [Hindu for phallus]. ORIGIN Sanskrit, literally 'source, womb, female genitals.'"

Which reminds me that there was a bit of excitement, many years back, in Judeo-Christian biblical theology, around the fact that root of the Hebrew word for God's compassion was related to the word for womb. I thought that was interesting but could never quite make it make sense to me until years later when I looked up the Hebrew word as best I could in my Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. (Yes, my word geekiness is evident in the fact that I ever bought one and am still reluctant to part with it. Lifting it up and down from the bookshelf could constitute weight-training.)

And there I found (though I have to admit I don't remember the letters of the root and do not care to look them up right now) that the verb that links both "womb" and "compassion" means "to be soft and to be wide."

"Ahhh. I get it." I remember feeling a door open as I got the link between a womb's soft, welcoming, expansive nature and the image of an expansive, loving, embracing God.

So now I tuck YONI into my own embrace and think of all the smooth circular stones that clutter the surface of my bureau! Perhaps I'll look at them differently next time I wonder what to do with them all or whether to keep dusting around them.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spiritual Affiliation: LIFE

Thanks to a conversation of comments on my last blog post (comments that were posted on Facebook--feel free to find and "friend" me there!), I've made changes to my profile for the Spiritual Directors International directory known as the "Seek and Find Guide". Among the comments that helped to convince me to go back and choose that "Other" option that I had paused over before were these:

"Go with much more space there. One of my favorite definitions of enlightenment: 'lots of space...nothing holy.'"

This time, when the profile form asked for my Spiritual Affiliation, I chose "Other" which led me to the opportunity to say something further in thirty-three characters or less. In the box provided I wrote:

LIFE: gratitude, amazement, art

That pretty well used up my thirty-three characters (if you include spaces)!

In addition to the comments on Facebook, I received a very thoughtful email from someone who wondered aloud: "Can we think about a sense of self-defined spirituality? Is it possible to consider spirituality as not always related to a particular set of religious beliefs?"

And I would add, knowing that religions are about more than beliefs--is it possible to consider spirituality as not necessarily related to the whole collection of customs and practices (as well as beliefs) that make up a religious tradition?

I do know that it was sometimes a source of great distress for me when I was ordained even to acknowledge at first and then to honor and feel OK about (feeling at least OK would have been the first step on the road toward eventually celebrating!) the fact that my spirituality seemed to be quite different from and other than and apart from the tradition I was representing in my preaching, teaching, and  ministry. More and more I wondered if it even made sense to consider myself a "Christian."

In fact, as I've written before elsewhere in this blog, I never felt entirely free to acknowledge even to myself and then to explore what it would mean to say my spirituality had next to nothing to do with Christianity! And yet I longed for that freedom. My soul was pleading, prodding, and pulling me toward the freedom to discover what would "be there" if I scrapped the whole God-in-religion thing and started from scratch. Started from my own embodied, earth-bound, earth-delighting experience.

I suppose I may have imagined the question was whether I would arrive at some sort of "faith," or not. Not a recognizable, fit in an existing label sort of faith, but an outlook, an orientation, a "spiritual affiliation" that I could articulate to others.

And even though I remain reluctant to do too much articulating and defining, most days it seems I've arrived enough to be able to declare that my spiritual affiliation is with Life, via gratitude, amazement, and art. I can live with that!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Interspirituality?or Other?

Last month when I officially joined Spiritual Director's International and was filling out my online profile, I got stuck at what I imagine for many would be a simple question to answer--my "spiritual affiliation."

The profile form provided an extensive drop-down menu of choices for indicating one's spiritual affiliation. By extensive I mean 56 different choices! And more than forty of those choices were variants of Christianity, nearly all of them denominations found within American Christianity: four Baptist variations, five Catholic, nine under the heading "Christian" plus all the recognizable (and some not so recognizable) denominational names--Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Presbyterian, Quaker. You get the idea.

The major world religions were there: Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim (plus Muslim Sufi). Native American spirituality. New Thought. Yoga.

I felt dizzied and confused. Where do I fit among these so called "spiritual affiliations" (which looked much more like religious affiliations or religious identities to me)? What is my spiritual affiliation these days? How would I choose to describe my own spirituality?

What I knew most clearly was that I didn't really want to have to define myself in this way. While I could understand that it might be helpful to someone who might come looking for a spiritual director of a certain orientation or persuasion, I could feel my interior dislike of being too tightly defined rising up.

I believe this dislike is two-fold: it's a resistance to defining myself as well as a resistance to defining the Sacred! First, there's my not wanting others to expect me to represent any school of thought or any religious body or outlook, to feel straight-jacketed in any religious or spiritual way. I want to be free to trust and to speak from my own wisdom in whatever way that presents itself to me, to claim my own spiritual authority (which I believe is everyone's birthright).

And second, I am honestly happiest when I decline to define "the Sacred," "the Holy" or "Ultimate Concern"or whatever term one might use. I am happy to speak of my lived experience in the most concrete and physical (yet metaphorical) language I can find, including the language of paint. But even that has limits.

Yesterday I tripped over a quote that sums up my stance beautifully: "It is best to have an intimate relationship with God and best not to insist that She exists." (It's attributed to Carla Ansantina-- and I have no idea who that is!) To which I would add: and best not to insist on just how She exists.

Having spent at least twenty-five years of my life lending my mind and my voice, and sometimes, I have to admit, bending my mind and my voice to think through and speak through the Christian tradition in its Anglican/Episcopal incarnation, I now gladly embrace my freedom not to. My freedom neither to feel required to translate my primary experiences into the language and imagery and stories of the Judeo-Christian tradition, nor to have to translate those stories, imagery and language for others. (As I write this, I am stopping to consider that I've paid a price for that freedom, still pay a price for that freedom, and perhaps I will write about that some day soon. But now right now.)

In the middle of the alphabetical list of spiritual affiliation options I paused to consider the two "Inter" choices--Interfaith and Interspirituality. I know I'm not truly interfaith, though I have great respect and sympathy for those who draw deeply from more than one great faith tradition.

So what about Interspirituality? I had never encountered the term before (and frankly wondered if the folks at Spiritual Directors International had made it up, perhaps in response to a number of their members). It sounds a little too vague and wispy for my taste. So I passed over it.

In truth, I could have chosen Other and then done my best to describe my spiritual affiliation in terms of my history--raised a Unitarian Universalist, drawn to Anglican/Episcopal music and liturgy, crossed over into Christianity, ordained an Episcopal priest, trained in Ignatian and Benedictine spirituality, then left ordained ministry and crossed back again to. . . what exactly?

Or, I could have chosen Other and then done my best to describe my spiritual affiliation in terms of where I am right now--which is kinda, sorta UU in thinking (is there a univocal sort of thing? I doubt it), kinda sorta still fond of much Episcopal tradition and liturgy (if you could excise a lot of the words and drop the doctrine and. . . ), and profoundly and happily agnostic most of the time as well as deeply connected to Whatever via the natural world and the creative processes of painting and drawing.

Maybe I wimped out when I selected Anglical/Episcopal and moved on. Is that really the best descriptor of my current spiritual affiliation? Perhaps not. Maybe Interspirituality is. Or that wonderfully wide open Other.

Hmmm. I might just have to go back and edit my profile.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

More from Bekah in Kenya

More news from Bekah in Kenya! She is back from her weeks in the village of Shirazi on the coast near Mombasa. And there are two new blog posts that bring us up to date on that experience.

Swahili lessons beneath a mango tree, eating sweetened spaghetti, watching inventive children at play, and the sounds of goats and the Muslim call to prayer. Bekah says in many ways it was a "regression into childhood"--eating with her hand, and being dressed by her host family among other experiences.

Guess you'll just have to read about it. Here's the link to the first post about Shirazi; be sure to go on the second.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Falling on my Knees, Thinking of Japan

I've actually got lots of posts lining up within me waiting to be written. At least that's how it feels some days. As if this not-writing has gone on long enough and until I get going again, I'm going to be a bit stuck.

Something about letting creative forces flow where they will. Even if I think I ought to be or would rather be painting just now, if I keep stuffing these writing ideas, sooner or later I'll find myself stuck. Clogged. Dammed up.

But before I try to write anything else, I want to write my own most respectful and sorrowful pause in honor of the people of Japan and the terrifying events that have been unfolding there and continue to unfold.

So . . . a moment of silence. Many moments of silence throughout my days. Sending, in whatever ways may come to me, my prayers, blessing, love, compassion.

Some moments all I can think to do is bow to the ground. Fall on my knees and bow to the ground and hold them in my heart.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Spiritual Direction: hanging my shingle

                                                    Pink Tulips, © Sukie Curtis, 2011

I think it was probably five or more years ago that a friend of mine first suggested that I join and list myself with Spiritual Directors International, since spiritual direction is something that I do. For some reason, I decided rather quickly that it just didn't sound like me to do something like that. Don't ask me why!

It occurred to me the other day that I wasn't sure if I had ever looked at their website before I made that decision, and that it might not be a bad idea to take a peak!

Imagine my surprise and delight when I actually liked what I saw and found some helpful resources there, too. Which led me to decide to become a member.

Which also led me to see if I could write a "blurb" in 100 words or less to include in their directory. The word limit was one of those things that felt both impossible and at the same time helpful. As if I knew that without some sort of limit I could forever get lost in refinements and subtleties ad infinitum. Perhaps even ad nauseam. The 100 words became an almost fun sort of challenge--to speak concisely and with integrity about something that's in the realm where language gets so easily muddled.

So here it is: my 100 (more or less) word shingle.

Spiritual direction brings attention to the "holy conversation" beneath the surface of your life. Whether you believe this conversation is between you and a transcendent God, creative energy or power (by whatever name) or between you and your own "true self"--or both!--matters surprisingly little. As spiritual director I serve as witness, mirror, and guide as you hear and trust your soul's deep wisdom, truth and longings. I bring years of experience as spiritual director; former Episcopal priest; mother, wife, human being. I am a grateful and playful painter and writer and above all (in Mary Oliver's words) "a bride married to amazement."

There you have it! What do you think?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hearing Voices

I was reaching for the pair of scissors in the broken-handled mug on my bedside table (my best desk scissors being missing from the drawer--ahem! Anna?), when I heard a voice.

Well, not really a voice. I heard the words, "What are you doing?"

Well, I didn't really hear them out loud, either. But I heard them clearly from within.

As clear as Elijah is said to have heard God's voice when he was hiding out in a cave feeling self-righteous and sorry for himself. "What are you doing here, Elijah?" he gets asked twice. I thought of that story mere seconds after I had asked myself that question.

What are you doing looking for scissors right now, when I thought you were sitting down to write?

Some days when I'm paying attention, I catch myself in the act of getting distracted--being drawn away from the task at hand toward something else. Sometimes toward some new, shinier task (the new possibilities nearly always appear more interesting than the present), sometimes toward . . . God only knows. Just away from what I'm doing.

It happens often when I'm in the midst of writing in my journal. I will suddenly find myself capping my fountain pen as if I had decided I was finished, when in fact just seconds before I was writing happily, perhaps even pursuing a new thread, and had no inkling I was ready to stop.

What's this about? I used to wonder.

Now I assume that there's some sort of unconscious "distract mode" that gets triggered for reasons that my conscious mind is not aware of. It happens so fast--it's not as if I am aware of any sort of consultation or deliberation going on inside.

I am writing away, and then, quite suddenly, I'm capping my pen.

Or opening my laptop to check my email or see what's happening on Facebook. Or . . . or . . . . The possibilities are nearly endless.

Occasionally it seems very clear that I've started to write about a topic that might feel a little murky or "dangerous" to my ever-watchful, self-protective ego. Some part of me doesn't want to go there, wherever there happens to be.

Other times I wonder if there's a more subtle form of self-sabotage at work: that this ever-watchful, self-protective part of me simply doesn't like it when I am on a roll and having a good time! Or when it seems that I might be getting somewhere that's going to take me in powerful new directions.

I remember many, many years ago hearing the Rev. Martin L. Smith, an Episcopal priest, retreat leader, author, spiritual director, and former monk, speak of the tendency of our egos to cut short our times of prayer just when we are getting to the heart of the matter. The same kind of pattern appears in all sorts of places in our lives.

With various practices of silent meditation (at which I generally consider myself a bona fide failure), one is counseled to respond to such distractions with compassion (i.e., don't make a big deal about it; don't assume this is a sign of moral weakness deserving shame and punishment). And then to return to the practice you were in the midst of, whether counting your breath, or repeating a mantra, or whatever.

It's not so different when I catch myself capping my pen, opening my laptop, or even getting up from my desk to go find a pair of scissors! The best thing I can do is simply go back to what I was doing before.

Return to my desk. Close the lid of my laptop. Uncap the pen again. Resume writing. And watch for the same thing happening again!

This may sound simple and small, but it feels like a large accomplishment to me. The whole sequence-- noticing, paying attention, recognizing what's going on, laughing gently at myself, returning to my writing-- is an accomplishment, and each of its component parts is one too.

And it all depends on noticing. On paying attention.

And while I may consider myself a failure at silent meditation, I do know how to notice things. For which I am very grateful.

Now, what was I in the midst of doing when I decided to write this post?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"My kind of pastor"

"You're my kind of pastor!" the woman seated to my right said on hearing my story (the short version).

I was one of four women eating lunch at a small square table at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, part of a day-long writing workshop sponsored by the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. Each of the others had already shared something about their writing projects, some of which were well under way. I was dreading the moment when it would become my turn to speak.

It had been almost a year since I had taken the step of formally "renouncing" my ordination as an Episcopal priest--turned in my badge, so to speak, and hung up my collar and vestments and my right to celebrate the Eucharist (and other assorted privileges of ordination). And while I had always assumed that I'd write some sort of account of this journey, I was still pretty tentative about it.

Not only unsure about just how or what to write, but also a little sheepish about the fact that I'd done this deed at all. Actually, let me be more honest--I was very sheepish. And wary of speaking about it, especially with strangers.

I didn't relish tripping over other people's religious sensibilities, causing undue offense that might wash back on me in . . . what? What was I most afraid of? Condemnation? Horror? Shock? Platitudes? A pious attempt to save me from myself? (Clearly shadows of these responses were lurking within myself.)

In addition to the whole "religion thing"--the fact that my story, though thoroughly individual and personal, was inextricably also a religious story, and religion as we all know is one of those topics one is advised not to raise in polite conversation--I was also a bit sensitive about being asked the usual follow-up question, "So what do you do now?"

(Ah...I could write volumes on that question! That most modern American of questions that seems to want to define a person, or even measure the value of a person, according to what kind of "work" she or he does. And usually by "work" is meant "work for which you get paid." And since I had very little of that kind of work at the time, I  really didn't like being asked that question. Even writing this now, I can feel a growing anxiety and discomfort. This is not a finished topic!)

When it was unavoidably my turn, I gave as succinct a summary as I could summon--something about writing the story of my leaving the Episcopal priesthood after 24 years of ordination. Something about what it was like to start over, nearly clueless.

A few questions followed, of a very positive tone, really. There were affirmative comments around the table--"Oh, I'd like to read that story!" or "You have to write that. What an intriguing journey!" That kind of thing.

And then the woman to my right spoke: "You're my kind of pastor!"

I couldn't believe my ears. Her words went right to my heart. I don't remember if I asked her to say more, or if she continued without prompting.

"A pastor who struggles with faith and religion as I do--and is honest about it--you're my kind of pastor!"

I felt hopeful and grateful beyond measure. For that momentary glimpse and expanded sense of my self and my continuing value as a human being, and even as some sort of pastor--not in spite of but because of what I had chosen to do.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I still struggle and wrestle with those same issues--my own tendency to define myself and my value as a human being on the basis of "what I do" and "what I do for which I get paid" rather than by some deeper and richer measure; and a continuing habit of hiding the fact of my formerly ordained status, as if it were something to be ashamed of instead of something that might actually be a gift, not only to me and my family but also to others.

Hmmm. I did not know what this post was going to be about when I started to write it this morning. I just found myself thinking of that woman who became my friend* who said, "You're my kind of pastor!"

*although for a year or more she was part of my life in my memory only as "that woman, Raye Tibbitts, who called me her kind of pastor." I found her again last year on Facebook, and we've traveled on from there.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bananas for Madame Matisse

I fully intended to post something on Valentine's Day, but I had other tasks, including the making of valentine's, that occupied me instead.

I had set a goal for myself to finish a few paintings-in-process by Valentine's Day, and I made it--just barely! Now I'm able to share them with you.

The first is called Bananas for Madame Matisse. Here's a glimpse of it.

                               Bananas for Madame Matisse,  oil on canvas, © 2011 Sukie Curtis

The direct inspiration for the painting was, believe it or not, a bunch of bananas. But in addition to the bananas themselves, my admiration for a particular painting by Henri Matisse was also at play. It's his painting known as Femme au Chapeau, or Woman with the Hat.  It now belongs to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (though their website says it is not currently on view--mon Dieu!). The above link will take you to an image as well as a short article on wikipedia.

Or you can read the basics here: Painted in 1905 in what became known as the "fauvist" style--the term, Fauves, meaning wild beasts, was not intended as a compliment to Matisse and his painting companions of the day--Femme au Chapeau caused quite a stir when it was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1905. It was the Fauves' astonishing use of color that prompted the remark about the wild beasts.

In any case, as you can see if you open the link above, the woman (thought to be Madame Matisse herself) is wearing quite the hat! It's a little hard to tell what's loaded on top of the hat, but why not imagine some bananas up there? At least that's what I found myself thinking as I painted my own bananas.

I seem to have a "thing" for painting fruits and vegetables. What can I say? I love them--sometimes more to paint than to eat! I enjoy their shapes and colors, their quirks and curves, the patterns they make overlapping one another. And I enjoy playing with those elements when I paint them.

In this particular painting, color was really the primary exploration and source of delight. That, plus the fact that the bananas in the painting are larger than life-size, since they occupy most of a 16x20" canvas. That larger than life size added to the enjoyment and sense of play as I painted.

I suppose I could have named the painting Bananas for Madame Matisse's Hat, but that seemed just a bit too much of a mouthful. (Let me know what you think.)

Now I'm thinking of a series of paintings for Madame Matisse. Next on the list are some lemons, before they become too old to use in cooking!

Blog to Blog 2

Bekah has been busy at her blog, which feels like a friendly nudge to me to do that same!

Here are her two latest posts from Nairobi. The first called "The Bubble Bursts" and the second, "Chizifreshi." You'll have to read the blog to find out what that means! Maybe I'll ask Bekah for a Swahili pronunciation guide. My slim recollection is that it's pretty straightforward--my guess is that chizifreshi would be pronounced "cheezy-freshy." Any Swahili speaker-readers out there?

I love the way my daughters inspire me to do stuff--I played off some of Anna's artistic ideas when I made valentines earlier this week. And now I will let Bekah's blogging activity spur some of my own.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mixed Up Files, or "On Not Three Blogs"

When Bekah was in third or fourth grade and a voracious reader, there was a book around whose title I loved--From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. It's about a girl who drafts her little brother to run away with her to Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York where they dupe the security guards and hide in the restroom until the museum is closed for the night, and, of course, they get embroiled in solving a mystery.

I don't remember if I ever actually read the book, but its title has always stayed with me. I suppose I often think of my journal or perhaps even more so my blogging as something akin to mixed-up files. Maybe the subtitle of my blog could be: From the seriously mixed-up files of the somewhat mixed-up mind of a relatively sane woman. 

Or something like that. Because that's really what this seems to be--it's sometimes a blog about painting, and sometimes a blog about leaving the priesthood and starting over to find a new path in life, and sometimes about what it was like to have been an Episcopal priest, and sometimes it's about my childhood, and sometimes it's about . . . well, being alive, being human, being myself. (I know, that last phrase sounds a bit egocentric, but I don't really know what it's like to be anyone else.)

This blog is, for better or worse, all of those things, and in no particular order. Believe me, I spend lots of time (usually in those gaps between blog posts) debating the merits of having a blog that's only about my art or only about leaving the priesthood or only about--you get the idea. For a while I even had two blogs  at the same time, but they blurred and overlapped, and I wasted a lot of energy trying decide when I was writing for which. So I gave up on that track and retreated back to one blog.

I've even thought about starting a money blog, because dealing with money and finances and how to make a living having left the one profession I was trained for does occupy my thoughts quite a bit. And I've learned a lot about myself and money (and about money in general) in the last couple of years, and I have a few funny and hair-raising stories to tell. (Talk about seriously mixed-up files!)

I have a feeling the time is near when I may actually start an art-only blog for posting images of paintings and maybe even of drawings. That one seems relatively straight-forward, and it doesn't mean I can't blog about painting in my mixed-up files blog.

But I'm not quite there yet.

I've even composed in my head a blog post titled "On Not Three Blogs," which is kind of an in-joke for students of Christian theology who might remember Gregory of Nyssa's essay "On Not Three Gods" about the doctrine of the Trinity. OK. I had to Google "On Not Three Gods" to remember who wrote it--which one of those so-called Church Fathers. But writing this has made me realize perhaps that's the title of this post.

So for the time being I will keep going in this blog, thinking of it as my "mixed-up files" blog. Or more precisely, From the seriously mixed-up files of the somewhat mixed-up mind of a relatively sane woman.