An indirect benefit of being a teacher is the summer. The two and a half months beckon you. Sleeping late. Trips to places far and near, otherwise neglected. Late evenings sitting on the porch listening to the evening chirps of insects.
Yet the fall, winter, and spring months are not so generous. Evenings and weekends are spent designing lessons and presentations, reading materials that (perhaps) do not fill your soul, and finally, the onerous grading. This is such a weekend.
The temperature varies this weekend between 60s and 80s F. Sunny with breezes. Birds are busy looking for mates. Daffodils and magnolia blossoms are past, one last gasp, blooms stretched wide and open. Tulips, the redbud trees, and periwinkle are in full glory. I cannot resist. I am addicted to plunging my hands into the earth.
Toward the beginning of evening, I decide to re-arrange a small area of the yard, It is barren and has been waiting patiently for months. The shovel in my hand is a weapon. I ruthlessly plunge it deep into the soft earth, insensitive to root and stones. Hitting hard, I place my full weight with force, turning the ground over and over. Stopping for a breath, I notice the shells. Crusted. White. Broken. Oyster shells.
Long ago -a century ago – this house owned different people. A family who sustained themselves through work with a delivery service (by horse), a garden for food, and chickens. These shells are reminders of their presence. This family experienced births and deaths in this house. The children ran around this very yard, albeit smaller now. The wife tended home and hearth, caring for the chickens by including oyster shells in their diet for the calcium needed to strengthen egg shells.
What is it that lasts in our lifetime? What lives on and is woven into the fabric of others’ lives, perhaps even unknown to them?
Grades. These are lessons learned. More than a subject. It is about deadlines, instructions, allocating time, and honesty. My hope for my students is experience these “facts” as the lesson. Facts that will help them to live well when I am long gone.
The shells ask only this of me.
Historic Takoma Park, Inc. Images of America: Takoma Park. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2011. Print
A young couple during the 1980s, my husband and I were looking to put down roots; we were drawn to Takoma Park, Maryland for many reasons: proximity to D.C., wide variety of socio-economic classes & houses, but most importantly because it felt “real.” In a metropolitan area where pretensions about self-importance, whether it be a style of house, income level, or the newest car abound, this one community seemed to stand apart. So, in 1981 we made it our home and we hope to “age in place.”
Working as an artist during the 1970s through the 1990s and with a flexible schedule, my first impulse led me to the library at the bottom of our street. I began volunteering there while pregnant – stamping new books and writing titles in a ledgers – before technology. During the raising of our sons, soon to follow, we became regular patrons as a family. Our boys participated in children’s programs no other county library offered – the celebration of the solstice, Eagle Bear, Morris Dancers are among the few in addition to being avid readers. Twenty years later while pursuing my M.L.S., I interned at TPML eventually working as a part-time shelver and librarian before my career as a school librarian.
This place – this library – has remained steadfast, growing from a small house on Jackson Street in 1930 to its current “new” building erected in 1955. Its friends and patrons, programs, City administrators, and even librarians, have come and gone, yet it provides what it always has – a solid center for new residents and a home for those who remain. It has nurtured generations of residents, and has never asked for much in return, as the community is a supportive & generous one.
My first impression of Takoma Park was based upon the library; it endeared me to this city – the building, the librarians, and the ambiance, oh, so many years ago; now, if I were that young woman, hoping to buy a house and raise a family, I would look at that building and it would tell me a sadder story about the values of Takoma Park.
Now is the time for the City to be generous. It is the same building space as 1955, yet is 2015. The building is tired. It strains to hold the collections, the patrons, the programs – rugs are worn, aisles tight, offices crammed, windows small. A library speaks about the community and their values.
I can think of no better way to honor our city and the values we hold dear, than by creating a library for the 21st century – one for all our new immigrants and little patrons, all who someday will live and work here.
This combination will cheer anyone after the very long and dismal winter. It is 70℉ in Takoma Park today, on this Irish feast day of St. Patrick’s, and even though I am Italian-Slovak American, I will accept this gift. Yet, I digress.
To celebrate, I spent my morning “weeding” my book shelves – home to a hefty collection of children’s books – books that once were integral to teaching, reading aloud, especially to very wee-ones, and for the enjoyment of the illustrations. As every gardener knows, it is as important to weed, as it is to plant!
Of course, the afternoon was spent at a favorite used book store – trading one box of books for another. But, this stack was for me! I always feel like the proverbial “kid in a candy shop.” My eyes grow large and my palms sweat with expectation of grabbing the delicious volumes off the shelves as I move imperceptible from row to row of these affordable goodies. Throughout my years of second-hand shopping, I have come to appreciate that the best approach is entering the experience with an open mind – expect nothing, and everything is wonderful.
Cradled in my arms was a small & exciting grab bag of treats.I departed with a youthful delight because I am so looking forward to reading these titles for myself – my spring vacation with paper and ink.
A Duty To the Dead: A Bess Crawford Mystery by Charles Todd
The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent: A Maggie Hope Mystery by Susan Elia MacNeal
Silent in the Sanctuary: A Lady Julia Grey Mystery by Deanna Raybourn
Rosewater and Soda Bread by Marsha Mehran
Espresso Tales: The New 44 Scotland Street Novel by Alexander McCall Smith
With the last two titles on the top of my pile, and being easily influenced, I stopped by the local Starbucks for a short latte and treat, compliments of my dear students (from whom I have a two-week break, thus I am able to visit the bookstore and coffee shop)!
Just like my small but stunning croci, this time of year is one I look forward to annually. I feel young again, renewed, and happy. I am home. I have time for my husband, family, cats & friends. I have time for music. I have time to read for pleasure. It is a season to bloom and I am grateful to have this season and this year once more, dear readers.
“The conflict between man and nature seems to have been one of the bases of Western civilization. In Japan, on the other hand, man has usually lived as part of nature, being embraced by it and commingling with it…”
A downpour with no drama – no winds or thunder; all, silent and vertical. Dusk is misplaced today.
Browsing through my book collection of artist’s books, long before the Internet, my right and left brain(s) are rattled to life – together. Did they forget that they were a team during my day job of constant interaction? I fear so. I play with ideas on the assembly of parts, but nothing whole appeals to me. I go to bed with a trust I have not felt in a long time. A trust that “it” will work out.
This is a humbling experience. For as I regain my belief with this small act, there is the larger reminder that nothing is permanent. It is all for in the now in my life. Somehow this sense of impermanence brings a great relief as my eyes close, and the cat purrs.
Doing justice to the nature of the materials is my hope.
Oak, Hideyuli. How to wrap 5 more eggs: Traditional Japanese packaging. New York: Weatherhill, 1984. Print.
Is it hard to play?
This afternoon I plunged into art supplies scattered about me, slapping down paint and shapes – not much to my liking. Formerly, I have used pots of acrylic paint with my book arts, but for some reason this has shifted to pastel. I find the colors hard and garish. I acknowledge that this has a fuller existential meaning (this, for another day).
I pause to consider that which lay before me. Ugh. Whatever it is, it is clearly not working. My “head” is intruding and insisting a reliance on the past. Known medium. Familiar brushes. After washing out my brushes, and tenderly placing them on the drying rack, I stop again and pause. Throughout my years creating numerous artists books and two-dimensional commissioned pieces, these same, inexpensive brushes brought at a local hardware store have serve me faithfully, and well. I feel a tenderness toward these instruments which slide effortlessly into the curves of my hands. It is not the brushes, nor is it the paint.
Bundling myself in well-worn scarf – a gift from my youngest son years ago – and slipping into my simple midnight blue coat, and greeting the cold air and a sky the color of turtle doves’ downy feathers, I step into the winter light. I leave, so upon returning I may play.
I am not sure exactly the reason for this mashable detritus stored in my prodigious “art” cupboard, but it lives there. Believe me. Once I went through said cupboard in a ruthless “weeding” of materials accumulated throughout the twenty years as a working artist. Today, at least five years later I open these doors to begin a “small” book arts project, and I am amazed. It is chock full of materials! Not unlike the famous T.V. Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles, paper, pens, ink, paints, and sundry tchotchkes have reproduced.
This is leading somewhere in my hyperlinked brain. The new year. Yes, for the new year I am indulging myself with art. This is a timed, but fragmented plan as I am totally exhausted after a long day of librarianship. Instead of watching the news – which is so depressing – I will come up to my studio while the dear husband readies dinner – and ponder my materials; perhaps, I will even dare to paste something down.
Today I begin assembling materials in a spontaneous manner. Looking at the content, I see that I am drawn to pages from both my piano book, Italian Songs & Arias, and a discarded graphic novel of Tintin. Could this be the result of my overindulgence on too many MHz TV shows of Montalbano (and yes, I have read the books first!) and my immersion in spending ten hours a day, Monday through Friday, with pre-teens, tweens, and teens – all boys?
Regardless of reason, I am excited. Happy New Year, dear readers. I wish you much subdued excitement, too!
Printed matters used:
Star vicino. (1991). In J. Paton (Ed.), 26 Italian Songs and Arias: An Authoritive Edition Based on Authentic Sources. Van Nuys, CA: Alfred Publishing.
The Castafiore Emerald. (1992). In The Castafiore emerald ; Flight 714 ; Tintin and the Picaros. London: Methuen Children’s.
Baffled, she hits the END button on her phone, and gently places it upon the antique chest of drawers. With care and a deliberate slowness does she perform this act – as if she is in a trance. Although not privy to her thoughts during this mundane act on this quite typical evening, you know her thoughts are profound. Her body is still, except for the right arm, the hand cradling her phone. Her eyes focus to a distant point somewhere outside your view. Within the few seconds of the digital disconnection, she is reliving forty years down to the details of ritualized daily walks past tacky shops, and the sounds of tiny silver spoons against bone china cups, while dark coffee and white sugar kiss. One might question her reactions. “More visceral,” you say. Yes, I do believe this to be the case. Her breathing becomes irregular, her nostrils flare slightly, and it is only the deep, final sigh signaling that years shared – years coursing through her every fiber – are at an end.
She knows she has lost something of value. Turning away from the dresser, her body regains vitality: telltale eyes that are once again bright, and breathing that is calm. You think to yourself, “She will survive this.” Yes, but I tell you, too, that she will not forget.
The End & the Beginning
My sisters visited me a week ago.
This summer morning, thoughts take me through a winding path along the wordfilled avenue of “sibling.” Defined as “one who is of a kin to another,” according to the OED, I read through the etymology and variations. Boldy stated are references to “sibling rivalry” and to “1974 ‘J. Melville’ Nun’s Castle vii. 153 Siblings and kinsfolk did not have to be friends.” And yes, siblings are morphologically very similar” …I would add, sometimes.
Yet, there is nothing to indicate that “kin” are or should have emotional ties to each other – certainly not positive ones. Why is this? The closeness among my sisters and me is the legacy our parents handed down to their children – to their three girls. Living within this triangle of sisterhood for a lifetime, it is the bittersweet touchstone to my past and doorway to a joyous present. My Pamela, ten years the elder, with her love of the moment,- this moment – and her openness at inclusion; my Sandra, the middle one, with her sensitivity to everyone – her generous spirit.
Perhaps it is time to refer to “sibling harmony” or “siblings in accord,” rather than that singular noun with its negative connotation. Yes?
Somewhere, there is a Jungian therapist who has written an academic paper that analyzes the metaphor in the deconstruction of the book with aging.
Last summer, working on a long-distance collaborative art piece, I deconstructed an inexpensive poetry pamphlet. The pages and the words on those pages became elements in a “fresh” work.
Today, as I work toward completion of a small collage, I realize that I am repeating myself – or rather reliving those psychic forces in a concrete fashion. Over twenty years ago, I created and published an artist’s book, Sweet Potato, in an extensively large edition of 350! Needless to say, I never completed the complicated assembly required of all the folios, and do this only upon request.
This morning I have taken one folio and let it “rearrange” itself into something completely new. As I ponder this process my thoughts lead me here: both creative forces – creating something new from that which is “finished” and aging – require the willingness to face fear. Fear that the destruction a work of art is too inviolable to cut apart and re-imagine; fear that an aged life and eventual death are, in fact, the finished piece.
The beautiful circle in all that has occurred this bright, summer morning is that the artwork re-created is a wedding gift for a young couple. Rebirth.
A gracious gift to those who teach is summer. As each one cycles through my year in education, it is time to reconnect with my previous life as an artist. My expectations of artistic accomplishments during these brief months are quite simple – create one piece from the heart.
The artists are raising their eyebrows at this seemingly simple statement and thinking that this goal is, indeed, larger than I think. You are quite right. Being a working artist is a nine-to-five job like any other job, yet the work itself – well, I will leave that description to other artists.
This began as a most unsettling summer. I could not find a quiet center within myself regardless of books I read, visits with friends and family, or my love of gardening. Restlessness permeated my days and nights. It was not until I “turned my ankle” during my relentless drive to clean up the yard that put me where I belong. Sitting still.
More than twenty years ago I began to make a type of western “prayer flag” as a gift to those whose heart breaks or joys are difficult to contain or express with flowers and gifts. It was a tangible way to offer love beyond my small self – an offering for the other to the universe.
Sharing this art form with you is “my creative work from the heart” this summer. I hope it inspires those who are in need of a nudge, to adapt, improvise, and create.
Tina Hudak’s prayer flag
Collage or create your image according to your artistic style that holds meaning. Here, I use calligraphy, my photo scanned on handmade paper, print on handmade paper, stencils from my hand cut design. Spray with a workable fixative.