Saturday, September 28, 2013

Painter crushes, and last chemo!

I was just talking to another artist, Sokuzan Bob Brown, about our favorite painters. I had forgotten the name of one of my favorites, Paula Modersohn-Becker, known for her portraits. She's one of the most important of the German expressionists, but she is often ignored in the U.S. Is it because other people, like me, just forget her name, harder to remember than, say, Max Beckman?

Anyway, I was looking at her work online, after I found a postcard of one of her paintings in my underwear drawer (yes, that's how much of a crush I have; no risk, though, 'cause that grave is long cold) and saw some beautiful landscapes.

Happy day, I had my last chemo (hopefully forever) yesterday! Now to sit out the side effects, which threaten to last longer than last time.

I was talking to my sister about how my painting has become more looking than doing, and that it has turned into three hour decision-making sessions, which is exhausting. She said that when she starts having to make decisions she knows she lost the thread somewhere, and has to go under the decision to get back to the senses.

I remember feeling a sort of bodily dance in landscape painting outdoors. I think part of the issue may be that I am using acrylics. They dry so quickly that I have to make many conscious decisions before even mixing them.

Goals, then: get my easel back out of uhaul, since we aren't moving yet-- ditto winter boots; buy prepared canvas, for ease; break out the oils.

 (September 25)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Hot landscape flashes

I'm having chemically induced hot flashes every time I have a hint of an emotion. Really, I am so glad this won't be going on for ten whole years, as it so often does... On the other hand, as the weather gets colder, it's kind of nice to feel the heat. Especially while painting outdoors.
 (September 21)

Laurent surprised me with a trip to Block Island for my birthday. It was too windy for lighthouse painting, but I did squat among some trees for the above sketch. Pretty sure I didn't get any ticks.

Below are some paintings from before and after the trip. I'm working on how I want to "talk" about the landscape, as maybe you can see.

 (September 19)

 (September 20)  (September 23)

Update: More playing with contours, today.

  (September 24)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Villain motivations, query letters, and the end of testosterone

Illegally driving to Roger Williams Park again to paint. It's the perfect weather for it.

Now back to writing.

If you know the enneagram, then you'll know something about nines. This personality type, I've been told, wants everyone to get along, la la la, and will ignore evidence to the contrary.

Okay, I am oversimplifying. But supposedly that is my prerogative, as a nine. Or maybe a five. Or maybe an eight. Whatever.

At any rate, it is true that I just want all my characters to get along and be happy, which is an unfortunate starting place for a fiction writer.

So I did this internet search, no joke, to find out "why people do bad things". It sent me to this website, with a rundown of 27 reasons people do dumb a** **it. For in internet list, it was actually informative. If you spend most of your life sticking your head in the sand. Which, as a nine, I do. Allegedly.

The list also seems like a good source for plot lines. I have been going through the roll call to add to my 100 plot lines exercise. I am now on #43. This exercise is harder than I thought it would be.

Bon bon bon, alors, now, in another novel related vein, I am writing an agent query for the novel I wrote in 2011, looking over the first five pages again.

I am beginning to understand my friend Sarah's tactful question about intended audience, because the beginning wasn't "obvious." Or some other gentle way of saying that the first pages didn't grab you and tell you what the story was about, or why one might be interested in reading it.

Uh oh. I like the first five pages, but they take the reader back about fifty years before the main action... Mistake?

Twiddling my thumbs, thinking. Okay, now I've rewritten (again) the first few pages. I think it is more accessible. But it still starts in the same time period as it did before.

I decided to rewrite the query, so that the mini-synopsis is cast off from the same point as the book. I just won't go into as much detail about the characters who come later on down the pipeline, even though they are more pivotal to the book. Again, mistake? I don't know.


I took off my hat while collecting Lucy and Emile from their play time with the little boy across the way, and his eyes got big. 

“What?!” he said, surprised. “You mean you still have cancer?!”

Yep. I still have cancer. The cancer diaries continue.

I met with the gynecological surgeon today. I had assumed that the surgeon I already have would be removing my ovaries, too, but I assumed wrong. So, two surgeons, one morning. At the end, no breasts, no ovaries, no hair (still). 

A bald eunuch.

This surgeon reminded me that all hormones would stop, too, meaning no testosterone, so no sex drive.

This sounds alarming. Does that also mean no orgasms?? Is all pleasure from testosterone?

Can't be, right? What about the pleasure of touch? We'll see, I guess.

The pain of taxol is better when I get enough sleep, and it's easier to sleep when the pain isn't as bad, so I have been trying not to get sucked into a downward spiral this time. Last time I overindulged in late night movies, and was the worse for it. Although I enjoyed the movies... So instead I am writing and reading, and trying to be in bed at a reasonable hour. 

Yesterday I saw a young child, maybe four years old, being wheeled around in a plastic car by his papa, along with the child's chemo bag. Man, if we could keep this from happening to little folks, that would be a marvelous thing.

Other posts about writing, and NaNoWriMo:  Novel Inspiration, and How to Get Some,  The End of NaNoWriMo,  Southerners must be laughing...,  NoMo what?,  Preparing for National Novel Writing Month,  Fiddle Advice, Noveling Novelties, and Wildness,  and  Writing "The End".

Monday, September 16, 2013

Islands make good book fodder

I just finished an advanced reader's copy of The Waves, An Island Novella, by Jane Minkman.

No relation to Virginia Woolf's work. In spite of the title and the lighthouse on the cover. Definitely not as much of a downer, bless Woolf's soul.

Book theme: Losing your childhood beliefs does not mean you lose all faith in the world. Walt is inspired by an older cousin who questions the status quo without being cynical, but it takes going to a land where no one shares his beliefs for him to find his own peace with what he had always been taught.

The novella was peopled with good, sympathetic characters. It had a bit of the feel of Ursula K. Le Guin, in the world building around arbitrary systems of beliefs. And a bit tame Lord of the Flies. The obvious sources of their ways of seeing the world was not treated as a joke, even though it could have been, instead just imbuing the story with a sweet tolerance. 

I would recommend this to a teen reader, and look forward to more from this author. Too bad about the cigarette smoking scenes, though.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Reviewing children's books: Sasquatch in the Paint, or From Nerd to Jock

I just finished reading the upcoming children's book, Sasquatch in the Paint, by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld. I was given an advanced e-reader's copy, and I can never resist a children's story.

I was looking forward to reading about a boy's life in a book written by two men, hoping for some insights into the male child's psyche. I read the book quickly, even though it was full of b-ball jargon; it is a tale of a nerd gone jock. In fact, I think it was a little heavy on the sports talk, but I am not a twelve year old boy, so who knows. Here is my take on the story.

Pros: It was very easy to imagine the three main boys' feelings, to get inside their skin, so to speak. And  some of those feelings arose from the absence of mothers. A passage that revolved around egg whites was especially touching, with one parent learning to fill the hole left by the other, and the feelings of retrospective gratitude.

The pretty convincing theme of the book seemed to be the change in three boys that led them from their past selves to selves who were more responsible and hopeful. This was pulled off well.

Cons: The main issue with the book, probably not surprisingly, is that the female characters lack depth or credibility. The main female character is too much of a mystery, a perfect cool girl, who knows basketball, knows huge amounts of trivia valued by the boys around her, and expresses overly mature motivations.

The main villain in the book is also fairly inexplicable. No one understands her, least of all the reader.

Final criticism of the book is of the excessively, pointlessly, scooby-doo resolution of the mystery portion of the novel. It really didn't need to be there for the story to work.

Overall, I would say this novel might be a good read for a twelve or thirteen year old kid, especially a boy, who might be wondering what adulthood will look like, and how their internal landscape will change to fit what the world wants of them. It could help them get a better grip on positive ways to take charge of their own development.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Learning Vibrato as an adult

Although no one had attempted to teach me vibrato until this year, I've been playing the violin slash fiddle for a long time now.

Oh, holy relics. I just realized how long ago I started. @^! I mean 26 years. That's... calculating hours... assuming I played 4 hours per week (never was strong at practicing) times 50ish weeks a year - years without touching it (let's say maybe 5, scattered here and there)...

That's about 4,200 hours. I still have, according to the idea popularized by Malcom Gladwell, 5,800 hours before I am good at it.

Because I don't hope to be excellent at it. As Temple Grandin so rightly pointed out here, some talent is also required. And though I have enjoyment and enthusiasm, talent is left out of the equation.

No matter. Let's saw away, happily. And maybe get a touch better at it.

So, to that end, what about this idea of vibrato? If you didn't start when you were a kid, and you have no innate talent, can you still do it? My teacher, John Sumerlin of the Proteus Quartet, thought so, and he gave me a lesson on it. Here's what he said I should do. (Special thanks to John Sumerlin for reviewing the steps to learning a good vibrato.)

1. Put the bow down. You won't be needing it for a while, and you might even want your right hand to help hold the fiddle up, to relieve your jaw a bit.

2. Move the left hand up against the fiddle, to prevent the arm from wobbling in the air, and to keep the wrist steady. Have the violin contact your arm just BELOW the hand, immobilizing the arm but allowing the wrist to move freely. It's only the hand and the fingers that are supposed to do the moving.

3. Choose the most adept finger, and get the motion down with that one, first. I used the second finger, the middle finger. Now, the motion:

4. Place the finger on the fingerboard, preferably on an actual note, on whichever string is easiest for you. Choose an F natural on the A string for the note, and include the release as you flatten the finger, causing a harmonic to be produced. That is the crucial element, because without the release the vibrato will be too tight and therefore too narrow.

5. Make the finger bridged up, bent at all the joints, and then, second motion, roll back until the finger is lying down with all the joints flat and the finger merely touching the string, not pushing it down at all.

6. Repeat this action as if the point was to create a kind of bunny running action, a quick contact with the ground,accompanied by a more leisurely rolling back away.

7. Do this once, then twice, then in quadruplets, until you have built up an ability to be regular and rhythmic. Work on speed in the next step.

8. Now work on speed.

The idea is that if you work on this for five minutes a day, said my teacher, then you should get it in a few weeks. Then you move on to other fingers, and other positions. As the below video demonstrates, it is even possible to do it with your third finger. Even your fourth.

I have to confess, though, my husband still walks into the room looking for the fly he needs to kill when I bow this vibrato.

Oh well. Only 9,998 hours to go.

It seems like everyone teaches vibrato differently. What advice have you been given? Do you feel it's important to learn it?

For more of my posts on fiddle tunes: Improving on the Fiddle,  Giraffes and, well, fiddle songs about drugs, House Sings Saint James Infirmary, Ashokan Fall, Setauket, a Mystery So Far, Fiddle Advice, Noveling Novelties, and Wildness, and Improving on the Fiddle

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Novel Inspiration, and how to get some

NaNoWriMo season is coming up. National Novel Writing Month, for anyone who might find that first word meaningless. The NaNoWriMo kickoff day, the Day of the Dead (which is also our wedding anniversary) is soon after my major skeletonizing surgery, which will be in the latter half of October.

I have participated in the Nano circus for the last two years, and I think I remember winning last year. My novels tend to grow post November, so I'm not totally certain about this...

I think I will try to do it again this year. An acquaintance of mine, Usha Bilotta, mentioned that having all the lymph nodes out meant not being able to raise that arm for weeks. As the surgery is in my right arm, that means no bowing arm for the fiddle (although they would've had to be awfully simple songs if my left hand couldn't do the fingering) and no drawing or painting. Probably.

But I could still type with my left hand.

This means that, for me, it's story brainstorming season. Which means that I am spending a lot of time on other people's blogs, trying to glean their ideas from them.

Maggie Stiefvater (my hero) wrote a blog post on starting novels, not exactly telling me where inspiration comes from, but what to do when it has arrived. It's kind of anti-NaNo, in that she advocates quality over quantity, and starting only once you know how a scene will end, and stopping at the end of that scene. In fact, she even recommends knowing the entire book's ending before starting to write.

I am never very motivated by other people's finish lines, but more my own interior goals, so Stiefvater's advice makes sense to me.

But back to that inspiration thing. I really love writing novels and inventing characters, but coming up with the original storyline is like pulling teeth. Why? I never have any problems coming up with painting ideas, or drawings, or even poems (very bad poems, though, I have to admit), but I can't seem to think a single plot line without rolling my eyes, dismissing it as trite, or prurient, or depressing, or just super lame.

I think my writing brain is not on very good terms with my dream brain. Or id. Or subconscious. Or whatever. Maybe it's because I started writing books as an adult, whereas my visual art had no choice but to suffer the idiocy of adolescence.

So I am trying out a different approach. I began a document called "100 Story Ideas" a few days ago, and am now on number 19. At first, each entry was only a line, and you don't need to see the eyes rolling to know they were there. Number 18 was nearly a page long.

I'll let you know what happens when I get to 100.

If you write, let me know in the comments how and where you get your inspiration!

Other posts about NaNoWriMo, and writing: The End of NaNoWriMo,  Southerners must be laughing...,  NoMo what?,  Preparing for National Novel Writing Month,  Fiddle Advice, Noveling Novelties, and Wildness,  and  Writing "The End".

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Landscape painting, comparing myself to others

I have had a good life, so far. I have traveled a fair bit, eaten some good food, loved some wonderful people and animals.

That doesn't stop me from comparing myself to others. Notably one other, a woman ten years my junior. The woman had a successful (in that she could support at least one person on her income) career as an artist, and then she became a best selling author. She plays celtic music. She rides horses. Unbelievably, two kids. Even a shared affinity for cookie dough. I'm talking about Maggie Stiefvater. Here is one of her acrylic paintings. Sketches here. Great interview, one hour long, here.

Fountain Bookstore, by Maggie Stiefvater

And here is her blog on how she accomplishes it all.

What have I been doing with my time? Yes, I'm dealing with cancer, chemo, mortality, yada yada. But before that?

So, this is where being kind to myself comes in -- a radical concept -- and I think the following things:

1. I struggle with depression and anxiety, which tend not to be helpful when inviting rejection from galleries and agents.
2. My childhood and young adulthood were fairly messy. Maybe good for creating subject matter, but bad for creating early success.
3. I'm scatterbrained.
4. I lack discipline, and the corollary,
5. I dislike routine.
6. Most importantly: Who cares about the past? There is only ever now.

Back to Ms. Maggie Stiefvater. I will permit myself a little hero worship, but I'll try not to beat myself up about being other than where I am.

I managed another little sketch from Roger Williams Park today. Here it is.

Oh, and I forgot: A beautiful painted animation by Maggie Stiefvater that is really inspiring me to create another paint animation this autumn.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

All in all, still thinking pain is better than seasickness

I spent a lovely weekend talking with friends I hadn't seen in a while, and playing a touch of music, too.

My friend Camille (last year I made an animation for her music video) brought her fiddle, and introduced me to a few fiddle ornamentations, for both Mairi's Wedding and The Butterfly -- grace notes and double stops!

But her main advice was that learning to play with other musicians, in a session or just informally, is like learning a new language. You have to get over the wanting it to be right and perfect, and just mess up like a little kid. I'll have to look for some sessions to test out that approach.

Today, now that the monkeys are back in school after the long weekend, I painted a foal for Lucy. She approves. She's been asking me for a horse painting for a little while. (Thanks to MorgueFile, and kelpie.)

I'm assuming now that Emile will want the same.


This bit of the cancer treatment, chemo number two, is a chemical called Taxol. According to my friend Camille, it originally comes from the bark of the Pacific yew tree, and is also found in some type of fungi. She cited it as a classic argument for looking into herbal medicine.

All I know is that I'm relieved it isn't the AC (cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin), which "helped" me lose fifteen pounds. Insert unhappy face here.

Taxol makes me hurt, but doesn't keep me from eating, drinking, hugging my children. Hard, but such a relief! And it only hurts for a few days.

These achy joints might be a preview of old age, and, if I don't make it out of the five year mark (the standard "cured" date for triple negative cancer, I have been told) then maybe I should be grateful for this glimpse now.

Update: Yes, I broke the law. I took the car, sans driver's license, to Roger Williams Park to do a little landscape painting. I was too achy to be actually plein air, but I at least got to sit in the car and do this little painting.