The Creative Epiphany – Places I Remember, Simpler Times

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The Beatles’ song lyrics that always grab me go like this:

There are places I remember, all my life, though some have changed

Some forever, not for better, some have gone and some remain.

All these places had their moments, with lovers and friends, I can still recall

Some are dead and some are living, in my life I’ve loved them all.

As I sort and pack and sort some more (during this difficult week of bad news) in preparation for the move back to Colorado, I am finding boxes of photos and mementoes long forgotten of a simpler time. Look, here is Thunder, my mean little pony, appropriately named, jet black in  temperament as well as his horsehair. That pony threw me over his head every chance he got. I grew to hate the sight of him, but eventually we arrived at some level of tolerance for eachother. Still, I always believed he was a killer at heart.

I remember the tallest pine tree just off our flagstone terrace, a tree that overlooked the backyard hill of our big country house on Munger Road. In the summer the tree dripped with sap, and I climbed it barefoot. My feet were sticky until school started in the fall when I had to wear shoes again. Nearly every evening I would climb to the very top, a considerable height for a skinny young girl. My parents sat just below having cocktails as the sun went down. From my perch at the top of my world I could hear their conversations to perfection, no one aware I was there. I learned a lot about life and I owe it all to that tree.

Oh the hayloft in the barn. Early morning sun filtering through the cracks between the wall boards revealing the random dance of dust motes in the air. Watching my kittens run to me from across the hay strewn floor as I brought their daily saucer of milk, weaning them from their mama. That hayloft was a retreat from the world for me. I would spend hours there with the horses, the kittens and the roosters crowing in the chicken coop nearby. It was in that barn that I got my first kiss when a boy from my 6th grade class walked miles to visit me, sweetly and respectfully becoming my first boyfriend.

The attic under the high pitched roof of the main house, where we needed help to open the trap door at the top of the stairway, our entrance to another world. As the rain pounded and roared on the roof just above our heads, hours went by as we played “pretend” wearing props such as wide-brimmed hats with feathers on them and black capes and using old furniture for the walls of our forts.

Of course my playhouse out in the horse pasture, nestled under some trees, far enough from the house to feel isolated and adventurous, close enough to run home if a thunderstorm came….the neighbor’s cows often escaped their pasture, wandering onto our property through the same hole in the fence that never managed to stay secure. When the cows surrounded our playhouse we looked out the windows and pretended they were horses being ridden by Indian warriors, and we, the cowboys, staged an entire afternoon of wild west show-downs wearing the cowboy outfits and six-shooters in holsters that Nana and Grandpa had given us for Christmas. We won when the cows finally wandered away and the ranch house was secured.

Mr. Kress, our beloved caretaker and man of few words, in the winter months would knock twice at the back kitchen door every evening about 5:30, greet us, then come in to tromp down the basement stairs and shovel enough coal in the furnace to last until about 7am the next morning when he would come back and do it again. Many nights he was covered in snow accumulated in the walk from his house down the hill to our back door. In the summer months he spent his evenings mowing grass – acres of grass – sometimes until the sun was down. As soon as the front yard was done it was time to do the backyard again. Mr. Kress is a character lovingly remembered; when I was able I followed him everywhere, watching him and occasionally exchanging a few sentences.

These are just a few of the favorite places of my childhood – the ones that shaped me, enhanced my  imagination, fueled my creativity and made me the independent tomboy I was and still am. The tomboy grew up to be an adventurous young woman who decided to go west to college instead of staying in Ohio as my parents strongly wished. In that one decision, which was hard-fought and finally won through downright pleading as well as presenting relevant facts and information, my life changed forever. I knew instinctively that I needed the wide open spaces of the west. When I landed in Colorado to attend CU in Boulder, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. Next to the mountains and a mile high – with vistas worth painting at every glance.

Still my favorite places from childhood fill my thoughts in the wee hours when I can’t sleep. The common thread is the peace, comfort and freedom these humble but rare places brought to me then, and continue to bring now in their remembering. From all the memories that fall away over the years, the ones we keep are the ones we need the most. And in the words of Jeff Probst of Survivor fame, “The adventure you are ready for is the one you get.” And I am ready to go back to Colorado for the next chapter. It feels like home to me.

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The Creative Epiphany – Knowing Eachother

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As a writer it is difficult to remain silent about the news in times such as these. So much is being said, much is being spewed in anger, and of all that is expressed so little makes any sense. By adding my voice to the fray I run the risk of being as irrelevant as many of the others but I am willing to take that risk because I absolutely cannot stifle myself. I will be brief.

In the USA we have so much freedom – so much that we often hang ourselves because of it. Everyone can go about their business, whatever that might be, unnoticed and unaccounted for. People want to come here for the freedoms we offer, and then they sometimes put it to use in ways it was never meant to be tested. Our legislators can’t figure out how to work together in the common cause of regulating weapons and the voices of our citizens apparently no longer count. Don’t you think that many of our so-called representatives in Washington are, in the privacy of their minds, heaving a sigh of relief that the Boston massacre was not accomplished with guns? It is more fuel for their way of rationalizing all violence to place this particular violence  in a category which is nearly impossible to legislate or prevent. Who would imagine a pressure cooker would be put to this use? Only the most brutal of minds.

Who are these angry people? How does a mind get from normal to mass murderer?

The seeds for radical violence can be planted at any time of life – a child can be sweet and respectful for many years and then seem to “turn bad” in a matter of months, with disastrous results, based upon some ideology that was recently adapted. When that happens, and that young person’s apartment is found to be a bomb factory, or a weapon factory, or a gun warehouse, or headquarters for a grand plan of mayhem thus revealing  a second, secret, sinister life, I have to wonder where the family was during this development? Sometimes these children actually live at home but their parents have given them the privilege of eminent domain when it comes to their own bedrooms….even though everyone is under the same roof! In the case of the Boston brothers, I imagine that the aunt or the father and mother, as astonished and in denial as they seem to be, had not visited the boys in their own environments for a long time. There would have been clues there.

It really does take a village of people to be aware and cognizant enough to notice when neighbors, friends and “nice kids” are purchasing bomb making equipment, guns, knives and other tools of war. Many trips to the hardware store for instance, purchasing items that do not seem congruous with a college student’s life, might be a big clue. Smiling faces and friendliness do not insure anything anymore – people often quite good at living double lives. Our daily business is now everyone’s business. Privacy is no longer an excuse. Freedom does not extend to a license to kill and injure. Families must monitor their family members – money sent generously to young adult children for tuition and support may be money that is funding terrorism. People need to step forward and report what they see as suspicious even if the person in question is a relative. If you take the time to truly engage a person in conversation you might notice a shift in belief or attitude that indicates a deeper problem. If no one has bothered to check in on a relative or friend in a long time, that is negligent and irresponsible. People need to keep in better touch and know eachother. It all begins at home in the neighborhoods where we live. The FBI cannot be everywhere all the time, and our best eyes and ears belong to eachother.

 

The Creative Epiphany – Not Quite Sophie’s Choice

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This post should be sub-titled, “Moving, Part II” since it is another installment about the process of changing my residence from northern CA to Denver. In a deeper sense it is about choices in general – difficult choices – and the agony of making them. Did you see the film “Sophie’s Choice”? If you did, you remember the painful circumstances and how her impossible choice was made. My recent choices cannot compare with hers, but still they are weighing rather heavily on my shoulders.

It seems to me there is seldom a clear-cut easy decision about life’s pivotal transitions, because the pros and cons often seem almost equally balanced. That’s one of life’s little tricks when life is being a bitch – offering two alternatives that for all practical purposes might each work out just fine…or not. Which is which? After some thought the pros flip to being cons and then a day or so passes and they flop back again. Would it really matter what your decision is, you wonder? I believe the bottom line has to be to ask yourself which alternative might haunt you the longest and forever be second-guessed. Wouldn’t  just one  clear choice make you unquestionably more happy? Either way…you have to live with your decision for a long time. Perhaps you need a third choice. A compromise. There was no compromise for Sophie.

As an artist I consider my art collection my most precious group possession – each and every piece of it. I own a modest assortment of things that have been carefully selected down through the years based upon what was always my  emotional reaction to that piece. The collection includes just one piece that my gifted father created, some art by prominent artists I admired and could afford, some art gifted to me, and a lot of my own art – images I just can’t part with, which I would never sell. My own art is the art that is the problem, of course. I don’t want to be an art hoarder – a wacko, wild-haired artist who keeps producing paintings like cats keep multiplying, and then one fine day I don’t have room to sit down and I can’t even locate my bed. There is art crap everywhere and the neighbors are talking. They swear my art has begun to smell; paint fumes fill the house.

Most artists have done pieces that feel like multiple umbilical cords to their soul – it’s not uncommon. Your own art carries great significance because it chronicles your life – you the artist can recall exactly what you were about when you worked on it. Much is recalled to you in the character of each image. So there you have the issue – leaving behind some of your own best work, your most revealing work, your “art journal”, does not happen without a struggle. Hanging on to your own art is absolutely an exercise in honoring your life and times – egocentric to be sure. But all the “greats” – the true masters – did it too. After their deaths the families often reveal hundreds of paintings and sketches squirreled away in some attic or barn. And aren’t we glad to see what is in those stacks of stuff? Hell yes we are. But I am not a master.

Whether you sell it at a good price or too quickly and maybe even dirt cheap for the sake of expediency, or flat give it away to admirers who are also friends and collectors or donate it to charity, there are choices that need to be made. Gut wrenching choices. This or that. Too many to move…too few to keep…which ones will make the cut? The train is waiting at the proverbial station. Hurry up and make a choice. If you can’t get all your baggage on the train it will leave without you.

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The Creative Epiphany – A Moving Experience

stuffbrushesartpaperskitchennative  Were you listening when I told you I was moving? If you didn’t quite get the enormity of that statement – if you can’t imagine the chaos and the boxes and the agony of the process – the stacks of stuff that don’t deserve to move to Colorado measured against the stacks of stuff that get to go – or if you have not done this recently, in this new century,  then I bet you are clueless. After moving out here to northern CA. in 2006 with my husband’s job transfer and settling right in, thinking I would be here for the duration, I proceeded to bloom where I was planted, as the saying goes. I really did bloom. I have loved being in California. But my husband died, other family members shifted from their Tahoe location to a more exotic locale and so now I am ready to return to Colorado. This time truly for the duration. I am so busy that it’s hard to justify taking the time to make a blog entry.

I am working my way through this 3 bedroom house, including an art studio filled to the gills with paint, brushes, collage papers and canvases, books and art teaching materials. I have a kitchen where a lot of cooking actually happened – these days you see gorgeous kitchens looking like no one ever even boils (a yummy pan of) water in them. There are dishes here for several different types of family meals, both casual and elegant. Linens – I love nice bed linens. Towels must be comfy and thick and plentiful. Art? Are you kidding me? Every wall was arranged with art. Sculpture done by my father and even me, including a tall skinny Massai type woman who I sculpted in college – she has lost her head several times in various moves (I have almost done the same) and I always glue it back on, because where I go, she goes. Masks and tribal finds from Africa and continuing unique gifts from my children’s trips, and those kids of mine don’t go just anywhere. Well actually they will go just about anywhere – one of them is on his second passport now and the other one has 40 countries under her belt. They bring me the weird and wonderful un-noticed items that only they would know I will love. An amazing hunk of stone from Yemen that resembles a petrified brain, if you can imagine that. Taken from the ground in a land of nothing but sand. A nice-sized chip from an ancient pot, gathered from an historic southwestern place where such pieces still casually litter the ground. Both from my son of course. A beautifully embroidered, little bit dirty sleeve of a tribal dress, sold at a market in the hill country of Viet Nam. Just the sleeve, because you see they throw nothing way. So I have this sleeve, which I cherish, from my daughter who knew I would put it out somewhere and honor the intricate beauty of it and that I would also leave it lovingly dirty with authentic Vietnamese soil. Just a few of my treasures collected over a full lifetime. It all has to fit into a truck. Driven by someone I do not know from a hole in the wall. Will he be sober? Does he drive too fast? How’s his vision? Can I please just meet him and look him in the eye before he takes off across Utah and Wyoming with all my things? He has to go over Donner Pass into Reno, then those Utah salt flats, then through that desolate part of Wyoming…

The other night I dreamed that my moving truck went off a cliff. All was lost. My globe-traveling son would hold me in higher esteem if I had fewer possessions – he admires those who live quite simply. He doesn’t own a TV. Even my daughter has  streamlined her environment since she and her husband have begun to live abroad; it is a scary crazy thing to move an entire household of your goods in containers stacked up like chicken crates on the outside deck of a rusty old ship headed across an ocean. Still I have my own humble concerns about the journey  my things will take. I would hate to experience the simple life as a result of my truck going off a cliff. But I am sure I would survive and maybe be the better for it. Although maybe not. I would try to be better for it but…it would be hard to live without my special rock and my tribal sleeve.

The Creative Epiphany – Soul Food

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This mixed media collage is titled SOUL FOOD – I did it several years ago and it is now owned by one of my favorite people. It is a large painting, it makes a strong statement,  and requires a dedication of space, much like the various things that feed my soul. If you examine it closely it reveals details about the passions in my life. I could not get them ALL worked into the composition of course but there is a selection of clues. Sort of like Cliff Notes. But my life is an open book…always has been. If you ask me a question I answer it honestly – if  you know me it does not take long to figure out what makes me tick. I reveal a lot in my art and my writing, and of course those “life journals” are pretty much out there all over the damn place so it is already too late for me to be mysterious even if I claimed I wanted to be. I am a communicator. It runs in my family – the genes from my straight-up-tight English Lit and correct grammar teacher mother combined with my artistic, musical, eccentric risk-taking furniture salesman father gave me no choice in life, really. My dad could tell a story – always a true one – and it would be hilarious. He was charismatic, handsome, romantic and a naughty boy to the very end. So the fact that I seem to be drawn to that very  type of guy is no big surprise.

But I digress – soul food is what is on my mind today. Cravings – soul food places and faces and things that feed me and fill me up, leaving me satisfied and content. I hope you all know what your soul food is, because when you need symbolic comfort food and you need it NOW then you probably know just what to do with yourself. I guess my equivalent of the old tried and true comfort soul food mac & cheese has got to be the BIG SUR COASTLINE of California. When I move back to Denver this summer I just don’t know what I will do without it. There is a very special place to stay as you travel south on highway 1 – it is a charming cluster of motel cottages perched along the edge of the sand dunes  on a desolate stretch of beach overlooking my Specific Ocean, as I call it – it is going to beckon you again and again once you go there. The place is THE SANCTUARY, just a bit north of Monterey and Carmel. Visit the website at   www.thesanctuarybeachresort.com

Oh and by the way, as you begin your drive down the coast, in the town of Pacifica just south of SF (that place that is always on the news because it is losing chunks of real estate into the sea)  be sure to stop for BBQ at The Gorilla BBQ place, 2145 Coast Highway 1, Pacifica – located in an orange railroad car on the left if you are headed south – the best BBQ I have EVER had. They do have mac & cheese.   www.gorillabbq.com   They even have their own theme song available on the website.

Another must-visit place, farther down the coast past Carmel by almost 2 hours is Nepenthe – you can Google or Bing it and read to your heart’s content – I cannot possibly do it justice with my mere words, but I will say that the word Nepenthe means to alleviate pain or sorrow….to cause to forget trouble….and it does live up to it’s press. The views are beyond belief, and on my last visit there for the occasion of my late husband’s memorial day spent along Big Sur with dear friends, my pain lifted and I felt lighter than air when we settled in there for a very long dinner on the terrace. Go there to feed your soul. Go.

There are many areas here in northern CA that I consider my soul food places. In the 7 years I have lived here I have soaked up a lot of rare and wonderful memories. Yosemite leaves me breathless, Tahoe of course is my family’s playground just an hour and a half from my front door. Wine Country – Oh my goodness. My favorite art supply store of all time is FLAX in San Francisco – it is like a candy store for me. The exotic collage papers imported from all corners of the world are my magnet, pulling me in and holding me hostage there for hours. That store is responsible for changing my artistic life and direction. And it is so much more than papers – it is a great place for kids and for wrappings,  ribbons and albums, books, journals, paint of course and canvas and every single thing you can think of in art.  www.flaxart.com

This blog entry will be continued – so much to say and so little space. Emotional Soul Food is a concept that I highly recommend you explore – if you find a safe and comforting place to go, a particularly wonderful person to visit, something satisfying to eat, a lovely location to sit for awhile or a midnight walk along the beach – if you know how to employ your special people, places and things for your own peace and comfort – well then you are taking care of yourself well. And I believe in taking care of yourself. There are few people who will do as good a job of that as you do, and it is indeed a full time job.