I am reluctant to do this. Share. Having dragged out my low artistic energy into August, I admit, right here – right now – that it is a “failure.” Did I create something? Yes. Can one call it art? Yes. Did it fulfill me? No. Absolutely not. No way. And here, dear reader, lies the most valuable experience (from which I have yet to dissect, analyze, and learn). This failure is a teaching moment for my Self.
I know and feel this: I cannot go back. Back to former techniques and past imagery.
I know and feel this, too: I must go forward. Forward with simplicity. Forward with eyes open.
Do you remember being angst-ridden with the knowledge that when you returned to elementary school in the autumn, your teacher would have you write – in class – that dreaded essay, “What I Did On My Summer Vacation”? For those of us who spent our summers at home – riding bicycles, walking to the local pool, and catching lightning bugs, the pressure to find something remotely interesting could bring us to tears while gripping a pencil covered by a sweaty palm, forehead millimeters above the blue-lined paper, while offering any deal to any saint for one good idea. Only one. Just to get through the assignment with some shred of ten-year old dignity. Not such a high bar. Do you remember?
I do. And I have finally done something interesting.
On my summer vacation I visited my two sisters, Sister #1 and Sister #2, in Bethlehem, PA. No sweaty hands this time, but joyous fingers, not to make you envy me, not because I did something so extraordinary, but rather because of this: I found the adventure with my sisters in doing the ordinary. Oh, and being of that age – yes, that one – this list will help me recall this summer – this one delightful summer – in detail as I mellow.
The summer of 2016 with the sisters included the following “special” experiences:
- My favorite clothing store, In The Mood, one where previously I have bought countless items (with NO tax!) closed this year. In its place, however, is an upscale “home goods” boutique to rival any located in Washington, D.C. Walking into Domaci as in a dream, my soliloquy reads, “I am throwing out all my furniture, and buying everything from here!” Yes, at my age -yes, that one – I was lustful…for the table, the floor mats, the sofas…even the damn candle!
- But alas, Sister #2 and I had to scurry across the street to Healing Hands where our one hour therapy sessions (not a “50-minute one hour session”…you who recognize this misnomer, understand the reference, I have no doubt!) awaited each: me, a Warm Bamboo massage, and dear sister, a therapeutic Swedish one. Never has an hour passed so quickly and so peacefully. Soft music, soft candlelight, and strong hands. Well oiled, well pressed, and well done, it was a feat to get our feet to the floor, stand upright, and totter down the stairway resuming our mundane lives.
- The evening brought and Sister #1 brought the next adventure to the fore – fine dinning. While this may sound trés mondain, be assured it is not. Sister #2 and I have no discriminating palates in our genes; Sister #1 possesses all of them! After much first-born lobbying on her part, and sheer guilt on our second and third-born parts, we all agreed to try a “new” restaurant located in an “old” location. Many Bethlehemites grew up with The Lantern’s steak-sandwich sauce dripping down their chins. On the very steak-sandwich spot of our past, we entered an uncluttered, cool and calm atmosphere; we entered Adagio. Have you yet eaten crabmeat in white chocolate sauce? I suggest you do. Food effusiveness –“That was really good!” – is not one of my more over traits, but I remain grateful to Sister #1 for this advocacy work. And, it was really good.
But the heat…oh, the heat the next day. One simply had to participate in the next adventure!
- Swimming. There is nothing that makes you feel like the brave and intrepid explorer, than to venture outside one’s comfort zone. Sister #2 had that gleam in her eye, so we hit the open road for the pool. Oh, not the one usually frequented – the municipal pool at Monocracy, rather for one where we had to follow directions, travelling up and down the suburban lanes in the hinterlands, turning at Stop signs never seen before – all to reach the Hanover Township Community Pool. Throwing our bathing accoutrements under a magnificent locust tree swaying gently in the 90+ degree breeze, we all but ran like the twelve-year-old selves to which we had reverted, and jumped in!
- Refreshed and energized, I talked Sister #2 into a drive-by adventure – an adventure I had quietly kept to myself- to visit an abandoned house. “It’s right on the way home!” I cried piteously. I was driving, anyway. I confess, as a child born and raised in Bethlehem, PA, I never learned anything about a remarkable man named Archibald Johnston – or his home! Yes, kindred Moravian College graduates – that Johnston of Johnston Hall! He was quite a man; he had quite a house. Parking the car after our circuitous drive through what appeared to be a dead end, we began our early evening constitutional across an expansive green lawn, interrupting a deer, a groundhog, and almost stepping on a chipmunk. Have you ever seen something so beautiful in your mind’s eye that it hurt? It is this house. Even in its state of disrepair -bordering on decay- it is sublime. It is an evocative place. It holds memories of the past, and dreams for a future. It left me with an ache in my heart.
Within a few blocks came the final adventures…
- No adventure is complete without the solo expedition – a late morning stroll to the nearby café, Jumbars, to meet with a former colleague. Experiencing an encounter as if time had never interrupted defies the logical order of chronological minutes, hours and days. One might wonder, “What is it about this connection that allows the threads of all those yesterdays to mesh seamlessly so that time becomes irrelevant?” Amidst shoveling fresh fruit, grilled muffins into our mouths and downing it with freshly brewed coffee, both of us shared teaching stories, tales of chickens and dogs, futures yet to be. Insulated within the familial atmosphere of this place and comforted by the home-baked love of generations (Thank you, Anna Jumbar!), time stopped. Friendship resumed.
- Through the years on my trips “home,” I pass a lovely bookshop storefront. It is only blocks from the sisters’ home, yet I have never been inside. Today was the day. The heat was oppressive, yet one cannot remain indoors for hours on end, no? Sister #1 and I set out for a jaunt. A quick walk only a block away. She, in her charming straw hat; I in my “Iron Pigs” baseball cap, we were the only living things outdoors. The heat. The words “used & rare books”was my bait; the opening of the door to The Old Library Bookshop, my hook. Charming. Quaint. Air-conditioned. All of these qualities kept us there browsing for close to an hour through books, photographs, until I spied a gem. An early edition, Newbery title from 1930 – Hitty: Her First Hundered Years by Rachel Field, and illustrated by none other than Dorothy P. Lathrop. Two women I admire greatly. A gift to myself, it is this precious book to mark a treasured few days.
And so I add here,
“I could fill many pages with accounts of that first summer – of the trips we took…of the expeditions…and of all the visits from neighbors and relations who often came to spend all day now that the weather was so fine” (Field 17).
It is two weeks into July (almost) and I am myself moving very slowly with art; I am rusty, dear friend. My process is akin to the Tin Man (The Wizard of Oz) walking before Dorothy had the good sense to oil his joints. Thus far my stiff hand has lumbered with pencils to:
- draw calligraphic lines at a whim
- color with pencils random places on the wallpaper reproduction
- repeat these two steps on varying sizes of paper
- reproduce a pencil drawing of the “key” onto my handmade paper (Why? I am not sure yet!)
- use a three-hole stitch binding with two pieces of work (the simpliest, of course)
- relentlessly ask myself, “What am I doing this for?” and “Who needs more stuff to put away?”
Letting go of reason or purpose and responding instinctively is a difficult behavior to regain after years of neglect. This process. This attempt to “make” art. This metaphor for life.
Please note that you may read The Wizard of Oz in a beautiful color, 1900 edition online thanks to The Library of Congress. Click HERE.
Working artist. These words hold an enormous meaning for me. Since 1996 I have not been a working artist, but a dabbler in the arts. Artists work every. Every day they log many hours thinking, creating, destroying, remaking, and revisiting their work.
As a working librarian, formerly a working artist, I have limited time to all but tap the creative side that lays dormant. Last year I cleared away a massive amount of art supplies and papermaking equipment in order to come to terms with personal changes as an artist – my capabilities and limitations. Now, my supplies are limited; I find this exciting. What can I express with what I have at hand? July is my month for art. A summer adventure in concrete limitations, but not those of the imagination.
My desire, dear reader, is for you to embark with me on this adventure. What do you have, right now, this very moment, in your drawers? Chalk, color pencils, your child’s Crayola watercolors? I share my beginnings here and now to give you the gentle nudge in my direction – a friendly push to take pencil and paper in hand. Use nature to inspire you. Play.
- Faber Castell color pencils
- Strathmore drawing paper, medium weight
- General’s extra black layout pencil No. 555
- Found scrap of wallpaper from our farmhouse wall
- Printer & color copier
- Krylon workable fixative (spray outdoors for ventilation)
What you see here
Size the drawing paper to fit through the printer (8.5 x11). Color copy the scrap of 1901 wallpaper onto this paper. Using my layout pencil to draw calligraphic strokes, and proceeding to color these according to the tones and hues of a seashell. Spraying fixative intermittently as I do not want lines or color pencil to smear, unless I CHOOSE to do this.
Check-in with me mid-July and share your process; share your art. I look forward to seeing your work in progress, as you see mine.
19 June 2016
My dear father,
The weather is sublime this morning. Sun, but cool in the shade of our wrap-around porch – the one where you smoked your cigar during the last visit. Blossoms share not only their delicate forms, but the hours in which they parade themselves before the eye. The day lilies – creamsicle orange – are fading as the beebalm’s brilliant cheddar-cheese yellow shouts their arrival.
But, dear father, it is the greens I love. Hues and shades from the ocean’s blue-green imbued in the giant hostas to the lemon-lime of creeping jenny. Green is steadfast. One is secure in the knowledge that it always returns; underneath the hard, frozen ground, green persists.
Green is hope for the faint-hearted; for love’s skeptic. Green is the father who always comes home to his children.
Dedicated to Joseph Thaddeus Hudak, 1907-1998. Always loved; always missed.
Five pints for $5.00! Unpacking my sack from the local co-op, my husband asks (somewhat annoyed as he disdains raspberries and those petite seeds), “What are you going to do with ALL those?” Defensively, and rather arrogantly I reply, “Make a cake.” Please note: In my life, I have NEVER made a raspberry cake.
I am eternally grateful to live in the age of internet (Thank you, Al Gore.) as my immediate instinct is to google “raspberry cake recipe” before I am found out to the duplicitous baker that I am. As a librarian (who is not duplicitous) I know enough to go beyond the first page, and it is on one of the subsequent lists of hits that I find one to my liking by Elaine McCardle for “Almond Raspberry Cake.”
Today, this very day, is baking day since the husband – disparager of all things raspberry – is working on his 1963 Porsche 356c carburetor which should occupy him for some time. Translation: I have the kitchen (and the house!) to myself for a few hours. Arranging the ingredients in the Dewey Decimal order on the counter, in librarian fashion, I realize something vitally important is missing – my Motown music! Again, grateful to Al Gore, I set the Roku for Pandora and I blast the sounds of Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Jimmy Ruffin, and Detroit musicians ad nauseum (oh, how I miss my high-school dances!), and begin to mix this and that with a soulful beat.
Suddenly, it hits me! It really is summer…I am home having one heck of a good time in the middle of the morning with raspberries and Motown.
The ending of a school year is bittersweet, and as I grow older – as I have become “at home” with my school, students, faculty, and assorted persons of stellar qualities – it is more so. Every teacher understands the not-so-subtle adjustments made with time, relationships, and obligations during these few months. Rhythms change.
Changing rhythms bring a sharper perspective to one’s life, if allowed. Mornings. Cool breezes and coffee. Rough flagstones under my bare feet. No shoes necessary anymore, as I disrobe from the mandatory, pedagogical garb – skirt, blouse, sensible shoes. Now. it is the feel of the rough and cool. Catbird calls and the sinister tck! tck! tck! of my cats. Eyes narrow and yellow. Mellifluous sounds. No pounding feet – feet larger than mine – against the hardwood floors. No metal against metal with hard clicks as the lockers slam, one after another.
Rhythms change. Mornings in my garden. Yes to the softer sounds. Yes to the solitude. Yes to the music of a life tucked aside for many years. Until. Mail arrives. Until. Today, three cards for me. Each one scripted in pen. Student, parent, and headmaster write words that pull me back with an ache. Ah, the familiar bittersweet flavor returns. “Not now,” I say aloud. “Now is for me.” I say to you, “Now is for the rhythm in my bones.” These months will soon pass and I will once again read these cards, cards that call me to the other life. Today, they are lovingly tucked away with lavender from by garden, and love.
40. Forty. XL. St. Anne’s School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was where I began to love school. It was there I learned handwriting and drawing lines – lines that formed numbers and numerals. The shapes of letters for the American alphabet. This was my taproot that would lead me to art. Books. Libraries. Reading. Pen & pencil. Calligraphy. Papermaking. Bookbinding. Books. Libraries.Teaching. Books. Words. Always, words.
The making of the 4 and the 0 are based upon the unambiguous straight line between two solid points and this is accompanied by the soft curve of the organic “0”. To draw this numeral one must possess the certainty of where one is going with the trust that one fluid line will begin and meet at a single point – gently and with ease.It is this form of the quantity that I love. While each of the five letters, f-o-r-t-y, can evoke a meditative state if written consecutively, line upon line, and the delineation of the X and the L can affirm the strength of will, it is the inharmonious forms of the the numbers that create sublime tension. Tension with a visceral vitality and exuding a particular beauty.
Is it no wonder then, that in this 40th year of marriage, I pay homage to this natural number. It is more than a metaphor for the two people who have lived side by side during their forty years. Years, where all it represents, have been tested and embraced. It is a well loved number.
Standing in front of the groom’s family home, he picked the daisies that morning from a nearby field and it became the bride’s bouquet
This post is dedicated to Michael Robert Graul, partner and friend.
Setting the table for Sunday dinners, Christmas, or Easter – the big family holidays – was always a celebratory task for this girl with pigtails. Under my mother’s supervision, together we would enter her world of fine china and etched glassware. Guarded behind the glass doors of her ornate china closet, these were thrown open on the special occasion or Catholic feast days. Gently I lay each dish in its proper place with its proper placement. Always, the roses greeting the guest. Looking at each piece – a crescent of gentian blue forget-me-knots embracing pale pink roses bursting forth – infused me a shiver of joy and pride. Each piece became a mirror of the next, until the table was a field filled with wildflowers. Throughout the years from girlhood to adolescence, I never grew tired of this ritual. Processing around the table, dish in hand – each one an invitation – I knew in my heart that these objects held more than a meal. They held my family together.
Mother to daughter, this tradition became my world, too. Unpacked from the brown cardboard boxes, her wedding dishes came to live in our rough, cherry cupboard – a $40 purchase from a stall at the Women’s Farmer Market. My husband and I, living far from home, began our own tradition of family dinners with dear friends and neighbors.
The wooden doors have been closed on this part of my history for some time now. The children are grown with their individual sensibilities – roses not among them. The dishes are still and silent, stacked – albeit lovingly – at the bottom of our windowless cupboard. Sentinels. Waiting.
This year I find myself able to accept that my future and that of my children belong only to each one. Once again, I wrap each piece and fill the cardboard boxes. They are my past, and I am letting go – releasing the objects, but keeping their love. They are ready to go elsewhere, to live another life. A new family with new traditions to grace the table of strangers. Fresh eyes to see the beauty in the bouquets of roses and forget-me-knots. Kind hearts to infuse love into what was once, a long time ago, my mother’s best china.
Upstairs, I rearranged my studio, yet again, trying to become inspired. I begin with the pencil. All browns, blacks, grays, yellows on antiseptic white paper. Hard angles. Sparse landscape. Graphite scrapes against the grain.
The school year. Entrenched. A library fills with books and laptops. Worksheets and critical thinking. All is drawn clinically. Shelves ordered and neat. Lines between the personal and professional.
Approached. Asked. Asked to teach one art class.
Tonight is for the green pencil.
The universe speaks to me where it can find me. My son. Its voice.