Death Happens

The death of a star should have no impact on my life. Yet, hearing of Natasha Richardson’s unfortunate fate made me very sad.  Perhaps I am shocked because she was close to my age, and  a mother of two young sons. Or maybe it is because she was a partner in that rare breed of  happily married hollywood couples.  And then again, maybe her death is simply another reminder that no matter how blithely we go along, caught up in the wonderful mundane details of daily living,  taking everything for granted, the grim-reaper has the last word, and can snatch it all away in a moment.

Or maybe not.  One of the many things  I love about being an artist-about making art-is that our art outlives us. It can live on through changing times and places, continuing to express something to anyone who pays attention to it. In this sense, art is immortal, eternal and thus, so are we.

Funny how little this reassures me when faced with the prospect of my own demise. I cling tenaciously to this life of mine and don’t really want to give it up anytime soon.  Got too much living to do, places to go, people to hang out with, experiences to have, love to give and experience.  There are books and songs and paintings in me, ripe and waiting to be birthed.  I have volleyball games,  weddings and christenings and family gatherings to attend.  I have yet to go to the South of France, or drink wine in Tuscany.  New Zealand, Australia and a return to Montreal and Salt Spring Island are on my bucket list as are so MANY OTHER THINGS.

Woody Allen once wryly remarked that Americans think that “death is optional.”  Because of our “can do” uber-protestant work-ethic which insists that we can fix or conquer anything and are a failure if we can’t, we are left high and dry when death does happen.   For all the work Elizabeth Kubler-Ross did to educate Americans about the importance of mourning and death rituals, we still seem to be clueless about how to deal with the inevitable.

Liam Neeson’s way of dealing with his beloved wife’s death touched me deeply, and is instructive for all of us.  It would have been understandable if he had chosen seclusion in order to avoid the glare of public gaze at such a vulnerable time. Instead, the next evening he was out on the street allowing himself to be embraced and held by friends when Broadway dimmed its lights for Natasha. The following day he openly received family and friends at a wake he held for his wife, and he helped carry her coffin into the Church for her funeral service. He even graciously allowed photographers to snap a photo of his family after the funeral. Death happened, yet he reminded us that we don’t have to suffer stoically or alone, and that one can bear the unthinkable when held close by a loving, supportive community.  He reminded us that to be vulnerable is to be human, and to be human is to love deeply and feel keenly our losses.

As the afternoon wanes, and evening presses on with lowering sun and cooler wind,  I am convinced of only a few things: that love, art, family, community and friends are worthy pursuits in this life, and that I will risk remaining  vulnerable and alive,  curious and open, knowing that “to everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”

"I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead"

“I’ll sleep when I’m Dead,” sang Warren Zevon in one of his memorable songs.  Oh how I want to sleep while I am living, but it ain’t happening!. So here I am, catching up, writing early morning pages, mourning the days when sleep came so easily.

Perhaps the shift from Winter to Spring makes us all restless. Central Texas is in a liminal “in between” state which lasts about a week, when the temperature can vacillate between 80 something to 39 degrees.  One day we wear flip-flops and by evening we are scrounging in the back of our closets for the Ugg boots. We are constantly adjusting our air-conditining and heating, and it makes for some uncomfortable nights, alternating between sweat and freezing.

Or maybe it is simply age and the restlessness that comes from knowing that the horizon-the end of our days- that once seemed so far off is steadily approaching.  Whereas in youth, one is flush with TIME, by middle age, we know that we will never accomplish all that we have dreamed of, and can barely make time to do some of the most pressing things on our “bucket list.” And so at 3:00 am my mind is  flooded with all the things I want to do-the swimming, the tennis, the yoga, dance. The friends to see, the places to go.

I wake up in the middle of the night with thoughts of art unfinished, lying in flat-files, and art yet to be made.  (Ah, the joy of the formless, shapeless vision, that has not been birthed into real life. It can remain perfect in all ways, flawless in concept and execution.) I go over in my mind colors, techniques, writing styles.  And morning comes with the rush of necessary mundane tasks- and the vision recedes…poof!  Perhaps this is why journaling is such an essential practice. It helps to tether those ideas onto something concrete, if only a page in a sketchbook. It keeps the mind connected to the body through the physical act of drawing, writing, coloring.

Perhaps this sleeplessness is the result of having neglected my sketchbook yesterday. I made art, but I did not draw enough.

“To sleep, perchance to dream…” I catch the first glimmers of light from the sun which is about to rise.  Instead of cleaning my studio, it seems wiser to creep back into bed with sleeping husband and cat. Perhaps this bit of blog-blathering will have helped to quiet a racing mind, and sleep will come unbidden.  And when I arise again with the morning in full bloom, the first thing I will do is draw my way into another day

Learning Curves

The rain has stopped for a moment and I look out at new green buds frosting the thirsty trees. This wet morning has given brief respite to an otherwise dry spell here in Texas.   Art waits and I do not respond to the call, rather taking on the myriad mundane tasks related to selling and promoting it. Bound to my computer, I long for ink, paper and pencil or brush. Ah, websites. Postcards, prints, printers and photoshop, Adobe Illustrator. Cameras and Jpegs, Pdf’s and Tiffs’.  I slowly acquire a new language while remaining a stranger in a strange land-one who has thus far only learned enough to say “Hi”, “Bye” and “can you do this for me?”  This is not the age of Aquarius, but the age of left-brained computer savvy. Too bad I was born with an inclination for right-brained activities.

The frustration I experience over the simple act of downloading pictures and then saving them for various purposes, be it print, or web pages, has stymied many an attempt on my part to become more savvy in graphic design. And yet, I perservere, willing to adopt the attitude of “Beginners Mind” and carry on in my slow, snail-like fashion.  During a class in web-design and Photoshop taught by Denis Brown at the Calligraphy Conference this Summer, a friend suggested that I go home and take a course for seniors. She was not insulting me, but giving me good advice: simply find a class which will go at a slower speed, one which does not assume that you know anything about computers, photoshop or web-design.

My brand new printer sits in a box beside me. It will be of no use to me until I grasp a few more fundamentals of my computer, of Photoshop and Illustrator.  I continue to muddle through the basics of these programs, marveling at their depth and breadth.  I know that this Macbook Pro I use daily is far more powerful than I am capable of  appreciating, but in baby steps I begin to gain access to more of its wonderful functions.

Soon I will make my own prints with no effort. I will make postcards and business cards, flyers and brochures. I set these intentions, simple and straightforward, and move toward realizing them, slowly and steadily  like the rain outside watering my yard.

State of Art

I am reading a book which has prompted me to get my art-act together: “I’d Rather be in the Studio.” It offers great practical advice for those of us who want to sell art. There is lots of helpful information about website design, mailing lists, marketing strategies. One of the sections talks about the importance of the artists’ statement. It really is quite a challenge to articulate what it is I am doing in my art, and I sat for two hours yesterday muddling through a rough-draft of my new and up-dated statement.

I won’t share the specifics of what I have so far-that will be posted on my website soon-but I will talk a bit about the process.

It seems a conundrum to put into words that which is best experienced visually.  For every word one chooses to describe something, there are so many others which might equally apply! How do I describe my passion about lines-lines of trees, cracked lines in sidewalks, lines of handwriting-and my desire to connect drawing, calligraphy, painting and collage? Or, how do I best express in words my desire to move beyond my formal “logo-centric” traditional calligraphy training in re-visioning what calligraphy-beautiful writing-means to me personally?

Not easy.  But I am working on it, and I would recommend everyone who purports to do art to try it.  We owe it to our viewers, our patrons and ourselves to at least have an inkling of what we are up to, what we are trying to express in our art.

Our calligraphy guild, Capital City Scribes, is having an exhibit at Wally Workman Gallery in Downtown Austin in April and it seems a perfect time to offer our viewers some insight into our art-making process. Particularly because we are calligraphers, our artist statements afford an opportunity for educating people about the spectrum of creative possibilities within the field. Indeed, if I call myself a calligrapher, people immediately assume I do wedding invitations and poems, period.  When they see my art, they inevitably say, “I didn’t know you are an artist!.”  Thankfully, our guild members offer a full-spectrum of approaches to calligraphy, so the exhibit will provide viewers with an eclectic visual feast-and lots to ponder. Our artist statements will help them make sense of pieces (like so many of mine) which have illegible writing, or simply gestural lines, instead of straightforward formal calligraphy.

So I continue struggling with the “words to say it,”all the while thinking, “I would rather be in my studio.”


“Fame! I wanna live forever…”

Maeve and I just sent Clark out to Vulcan Video to get the movie FAME.  (Vulcan Video is our last surviving Austin original home-grown video store. If you can’t find it at Vulcan, the movie does not exist.)  Why FAME? Maeve has been accepted at the McCallum Fine Arts Academy for high school.  It is the closest thing to the Performing Arts High School Model in New York on which the movie FAME was based.
I must confess that I was initially hesitant to support Maeve’s decision to go to McCallum. It is a public school (where are my politics now?) and Austin inner city schools certainly have their problems. Maeve also applied to two St.’s-St. Stephens and St. Andrews.  But the Saints have yet to come marching in with admission acceptances, and Maeve has decided she wants a public school experience after years of private, so here we are.  Actually, I am surprised by my initial  concern about her choice of visual arts. Because I am a visual artist one would think I would want to encourage my child in this direction since she has such aptitude, talent and propensity to do so!  Ah, it seems that for all my bohemian open-mindedness there is a conservative streak in me when it comes to my kids’ education.  I really had Maeve pegged as an “academic” (which she is) and thus wanted to encourage her to go to a school with a concentration in liberal arts to help develop her amazing intellect.  Alas, as all parents learn sooner or later, our children have minds of their own, and an inclination to do what they want to do.

I am not worried about Maeve. She will be fine wherever she goes. And truly, an art education can provide her with the skills necessary for survival in the 21st century: flexibility, adaptability, right-brain mode development. Indeed, I saw a book recently that talked about the importance of liberal and fine arts in educating people to be able to think creatively.  To have a child excited about art is such a thrill-and to have a program in our midst which encourages students to pursue a career in the arts could not be more perfect.

So we watched the FAME kids dance and sing and blunder their way through the NYPerforming Arts School, which did not minimize the vicissitudes and challenges of pursuing a career in the fine arts.  And my daughter and I smiled, knowing that her adventure lies before her and I will be dancing and singing and drawing along with her as she realizes her dream of being an artist.