Sunday, December 14, 2014

Ending - and beginning again - with the alphabet

Time is stretching its paws, and trying to decide if it's motivated enough to get up off that couch... No, wait, that's me.

Motivation is my middle name. Currently, my first name is Lacking...

The opening of my Bestiary show, Where Are We Going? was a lot of fun, with kids and crayons and friends and finger food. I was grateful to Neal and Caroline, and everyone who showed up, dropping my jaw when some friends I'd believed to be in Honduras (where they live) walked through the door. I even sold a painting or two. Or a few more.

Already, I am nostalgic for the structure of the alphabet. Every day another letter, another agonizing decision (“Wombat? Warthog? Weasel? Wolverine?”), finishing the Vervet monkey painting the night before the opening. And the pressure of painting on the walls, getting it right.

I really had a good time, in spite of the stress.

I am trying to get back to writing, but I am also planning to keep up the alphabet. The fox sold, to a friend who bought it for someone undergoing Folfox chemotherapy – a wonderful thing to do, giving a totem gift.

Which leaves the doors open for another F. Fox again? So clever, those foxy eyes...

       *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    

What language have you always wanted to learn? There are a lot of languages we think we should learn, or we like the idea of, but we won't actually take the effort of making it happen.

For a lot of people, that language is French.

For me, it's always been Spanish.

The whole post-cancer-reevaluating-priorities stage has made me scratch my head about a lot of these declared desires: Do I want another Master's? Do I want to be a painter? Do I want to write young adult fiction, or write something that makes no sense at all but does something else entirely?

The answers are in flux, but it turns out that I have nothing, motivationally speaking, against learning Spanish, aside from not knowing how to go about it.

For my accidental learning of French, I went to live on a farm in Normandy with a bunch of goats, a cat, and some chickens. None of them spoke French, so I bought myself a copy of Le Petit Prince, read it, annotated it, read it several more times. Then I met my husband in Berkeley, and he finally taught me French...

So, conflating the initial act with the real cause of the end result that I now speak French, I decided I would get myself some books in Spanish. Surely, the fluency came from that first book, right?

My friends Camille Collins Lovell and Oscar Estrada gave me reading recommendations, and I have now ordered Eva Luna in Spanish (I read it in English years ago, so it will be a different experience), and La noche de Tlatelolco: Testimonios de historia oral, by Elena Poniatowska.

And, because I love Raúl Juliá (wasn't he great as Gomez Adams?), and this is completely related to my motivation to learn Spanish even though the movie was in English, I also ordered El beso de la mujer araña (The Kiss of the Spider Woman), by Manuel Puig.

Also trying to learn Old English, from Beowulf, and An Introduction to Old English, by Richard Hogg, was very kindly posted in pdf form online. I looked him up, just to send an email of thanks. Alas, he can afford to be generous, cause he's dead.

Posthumous thanks, anyway.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The alphabet is not getting shorter...

An animal alphabet seemed like a great idea, with built in structure, lots of varied critters... But then I realized, after five letters or so, that there are twenty-six. Yes, I don't always think things through. Hmm.

The first question everyone has: What animal are you using for X?
So, here's the African ground squirrel, Xerus!

The show is up at AS220 Project Space, at 93 Mathewson Street, for the month of December. Kid oriented, as you might have noticed - tots are welcome!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Masters' in Priorities

I am more than half way finished with my third class, Theories and Principles of Language Teaching with Dr. Lily Compton, in the Umass Boston online version of their Applied Linguistics Program
The student caliber is high, the median age I would guess to be mid thirties (with plenty above and below that age) and from all over the world – Greece, France, Japan, Philippines, and the U.S. The weekly work requirements involve about 12 hours of reading and writing, with possibly a bit more for a perfect record of responding thoughtfully and with academic weight to the comments of fellow students. The reading is interesting, particularly Vivian Cook's SecondLanguage Learning and Language Teaching: Fourth Edition(Dry title, dry humor.)
In spite of all that, I am taking next semester off. Cancer snapped me into a new set of priorities, and I'm not sure getting a(nother) masters' is how I want to spend whatever time I have here in this crazy and lush world of the senses.
I spoke with my advisor, the well known Professor/Dr. Lilia Bartolome, the day before yesterday, and she was interested, helpful, and understanding. She asked if I wanted to drop out, but I don't know that, yet. I might just be in a sickness accentuated slump of enthusiasm, common to many people at this point in any course of action.
So, I'll wait, paint, write, and meditate, and, if I still feel wishy washy in a few months, I'll drop out.

Meanwhile, I am trying to prepare for a December show at AS220, and taking a free Coursera Intro to Guitar class, offered by Thaddeus Hogarth at the Berklee School of Music, and, yes, tinkering around with a novel when I have a second or two... 
Overcommitment, anyone?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Walking my way to a brain

People say that chemo affects the brain - chemo brain, it's called, though we aren't sure chemo is the source of the befuddlement following chemotherapy. Could be trauma, somewhere on the PTSD scale, right? Or low vitamin B12?

Anyway, something is slower than usual in my brain, and I'm in the middle of course three in my master's program in applied linguistics, so I am trying out the blood flow idea. Walk while reading means telling the body that the brain is a worthy recipient of its efforts. Maybe.

Oh, I hope so.

Here is my answer to post-chemo brain:

Magnetic treadmill, so no power source required, and (thanks to Laurent, whose brain appears to be still functioning well, for the problem solving) an orchestra music stand turned around.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

My right side is sad, my left side is angry, and the whole misses a part of itself

Yep, I am finally starting to feel like an amputee. Poor little body, having to say goodbye like that to family. Poor little breasts, who never did no harm to no one. It's good to have a good cry over that.

After a tumor in the right lymph nodes, and a double mastectomy and oopherectomy, the two sides of my body are like siblings. The left side is hurt and angry - "I didn't do anything, why do I have to pay? And why does the other side get all the attention, when I do all the work?" And the right side is just sad and scared.


I just crossed the ford of 40. I got a diagnosis at 38, and wasn't sure that I would make it this far, being a bit of a pessimist by nature. No, not pessimism: knowing we will all die and not liking suspense.

But here I am. Hello! Nice to see you all again! Nice to breathe big breaths into the tender place where there were once breasts! I'm happy, as well as sad and angry. And very happy to be all of those.


It was an intimate and messy summer, and so beautiful. I didn't write much, but I painted a fair amount.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Doodles and dribbles and astrocartography

It is raining in the Alps. Cold rain in the Alps is not fun. Yes, the clouds are pretty, but... Man, it's cold out there - 48 degrees Fahrenheit.

These photos were taken on the last day before the rains began.

Yes, I'm complaining about being in les Arcs. In Haute-Savoie. I know.

Speaking of locations, I have been paling around with astrocartography maps, trying to decide if it's Boise, Idaho, or Omaha, Nebraska, that is the ideal place for me - according to these maps, at least! I think it all comes down to daylight saving time...

Nixon signed the daylight saving law into being the year I was born. So, circuitously, if I moved to the wrong city based on an hour's difference, Nixon could be responsible for my personal astrological disaster. How fun is that?

And, once again, I tinker with animations:

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Pretty is what we can fantasize about - imagining having known about my brca1 before cancer struck

I'm reading Jessica Queller's Pretty Is What Changes, chronicling how she discovered that she was brca1 positive and the medical decisions she made therewith. 
The bad: tediously name-droppy. 
The good: Queller really lets us in on what it feels like to consider cutting off a part of your body because it might save your life. And probably save you from a serious and grizzly illness. And whether or not that is too much of a decision for us all.
I find it strangely comforting to read about someone who had a prophylactic double mastectomy in response to learning about her cancer gene. It isn't that I want to share the misery – I really really desperately don't – but that I can fantasize that avoiding cancer is possible. Dramatic, traumatic, but possible.
This is a genetic disease. This means I was born with the code that would lead to this, sort of. So, it feels silly to me to think of changing who I was born to be, – “Oh, what if I didn't have this gene?” – but perfectly reasonable to dream about going back in time, learn that I had the gene, make the stunningly proactive decision to have a drastically body-altering surgery, and screw around with my hormones by removing my ovaries….
Oh, wait. I guess that wouldn't have been me, either. Not the type for extreme prevention, given my lifestyle habits.
Specifically, I kind of lived on peanut M&Ms for a while, and yes, I have a bad habit of staying up into the wee hours of the new day, and exercise is a dirty word. I think these things may not have helped, but with the gene statistics being what they are, my behavior probably had almost nothing, if anything, to do with my cancer.
But where I feel simmering though irrational guilt, and really want to reach out toward the hope of cancer evasion, is in the possibility of my having passed this code along to my children. It's a cruel coin toss.
What will my children choose? Will they get tested? Will they have children? Will my daughter, if she tests positive, go the radical mastectomy and oophorectomy route?
Maybe by then that won't even be necessary. Maybe a little vaccination spray up the nose gives them a cold that cures the cancer.

(Or maybe it turns them into brain-eating zombies.... ) 

Monday, April 28, 2014

50k and miles to go... NaNoWriMo and the unfinished novel

This year's project for National Novel Writing Month did not - and I know no one is shocked by this - get sewn up within the wee month of November, the last half of which was spent driving up to Dana Farber and back.

Besides, for the first half of that time I preferred landscape painting while the days were still fine.

When radiation treatments ended, I finally went back to writing, and started to try feeling around for what I really cared about in the project.

The novel became the story of an adolescent who learns she has the breast cancer gene. At 16, what would you have done? How would it have changed your life, if at all?

Not a small question. And tangle that up with a few French fairies (cause I can't resist) the Norman countryside, some fellow confused adolescents, and you have -

A 50k mess. But 50k! Yay! It was a goal, significant or not, and it has been crossed today.

Now I just have to write another 80k so I can throw away 60...

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Strong. Scoff.

I find the following oft repeated declaration difficult to tolerate:

“You are/were so strong to deal with all this! I know you, of all people, will pull through. Because you are so strong.”

... Uh... Being told you are strong when you are just dealing with life as it comes. Unhappy face. This  praise is a completely well intentioned copout.

Maybe the following statements can illustrate why I find this irritating:

“You woke up in the morning, when the car alarm started just outside your bedroom window! Boy are you ever strong.”

“You are breathing, in spite of the fact that there is pollution in the air, and breathing requires muscles, and oxygen contributes to cell fatigue. That takes serious strength.”

“You fed your kids breakfast, and it wasn't even sugary cereal! You are so strong. I don't know if I could do that.”

“You did not stay up until 3 in the morning watching My Mad Fat Diary. Wow. You are strong.” (Oh. Wait. I really mean that one...)

You gave birth, rather than keeping the fetus in your body after nearly ten long months. I'm so sorry you had to go through that. You are so strong.”

Do you catch my drift? These are realities, and necessities.

Having chemo (while being very similar to surviving severe trauma, for some of us), going through radiation treatment, having a double mastectomy and oopherectomy, this does not require any more strength than eating an apple instead of going hungry.

You just do it.

Hate it, suffer, cry and whine, and do it. And then whine some more, and feel sorry for yourself, and stay up all night watching My Mad Fat Diary (Ah! That's the theme of this post!)

Okay, so why does this bother me? Why not just say, “Yes! We are all gloriously strong!”

Well. I could do that. Or I could rant. Naturally, I choose the latter.

I defend my right not to feel, or be called, or be seen as, strong. I need just as much love and care as the next goof up, and I am just as scared and confused. I am not some super hero, and you are not weaker than I am.

What I have dealt with, you may deal with, and you won't be any stronger or weaker than I am/was.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Frog spring

My reaction to spring appears to involve a lot of frogs.

And some craziness involving not doing sitting meditation, but that's all taken care of now. (Simple equation: not sitting = more crazy x not taking good enough care of myself.)

So, frog one and two, first one litoria caerulea, second one plastica plastic.

Oh, and third one papier imaginica.

 litoria caerulia

 plastic frog on crayon heart cake

Monday, March 31, 2014

Following drawing advice

I followed Maggie Stiefvater's drawing advice. More or less. Only with some slight distortion for the final project - who needs values, after all?

The 20 second value sketch took me 3 minutes, and the line drawing 5. The painting took me hours, not sure how many. More than two, less than five?

And yes, I tried to find a raven to honor her writing, but morguefile (thank you mothdevil!) fed me crows instead, and called them ravens...

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Painting three models makes me fauvist

This weekend I got to join my friends Amy Wynne Derry and Margaret Owen in a painting marathon at Amy's studio. At the end I felt very much like I had spent the entire day running.

We had fun, the artists painting these three models. The models, on the other hand, worked very hard. They maintained the same pose for much of a five hour period, and we all got to play.

Many of the artists chose to work on just one model at a time, but not all.

(One of Margaret Owen's paintings from the session, below)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Awakening the senses - meditation and painting

I just came back from a weekend in New York with Sokuzan Robert Brown. We spent most of the time talking about sense perceptions, and he led us in a series of exercises to awaken the awareness of the senses.

"Let the senses lead," he kept saying, and backed it up with various methods of noticing where the awareness goes when focusing on certain things - what happens to sight perception of the room when one has just put a bit of salt on the tongue, for example.

Then he instructed us on ways of seeing paintings, letting the awareness travel to assigned ideas (dark, triangular, red, top left, etc) without ever moving your eyes from the center.

The result of this last was a kind of amped up version of many Josef Albers exercises, or the measuring, drawing and weighing sketches I have always done of paintings I liked in museums.

I came back uncertain of what I was going to paint, so I just went over old ground.

Different than the last one...

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Don't piss off the fairies

Here is the color saturated painting of the study photo:

I love it when painting is such fun. It helps to have Noel McLoughlin, PJ Harvey, and Tom Waits singing in the background.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Dancing with the fairies

This is a study photo I put together for a painting I've been wanting to do for a while.

Today I'm really feeling the middle land between life and death, which has a particularly verdant feeling because of being still relatively young.

It feels very Shakespearian, like running through stone halls made green with moss, arm in arm with others, not brushing my teeth...

Does that make any sense?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Emile the gnome

Some days I have an urgent need to paint something, and then I just wander around for the rest of the week wondering:


Friday, February 28, 2014

When being a virgo... drawing studies for a painting

Once in a while I become, shall we say, obsessively detail oriented. Maybe it is a lack of confidence, or maybe not taking deep enough breaths.

Or maybe some details just need attending to.

The small owl that I'm painting on linen has become, in my mind, a mural, something large, maybe a frieze on the side of the Mall of America.

In other words, it has become disproportionately daunting.

Partly because this bird has serious character, and I don't want to miss that. Nor the beauty. Also, I'm painting it for my sister, who has higher standards than there are devices for measuring such things.

Many, many owls have been drawn by me over the last weeks. Or rather, the same owl many times over.

I remember being told the story of the zen painter (or maybe it was a chinese master?) who was commissioned to paint a rooster.

After a few months (years) the customer became impatient, and demanded to be given his painting.

"Well, if you are in such a hurry, I will do it for you now!" With that, the painter pulled out ink and brush, and painted a flowing, balanced rooster.

"I paid you that much for you to spend less than a minute making this?" spluttered the outraged customer.

The painter smiled, and invited the other person back into the studio for tea. Once there, the customer stopped and stared all around.

On every wall, on every surface, was a painting of a rooster.

What does it mean? Clearly, the painter was obsessive compulsive, and had problems with self-confidence.

Insert winking emoticon here.

ETA final owl painting

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tarasque, TARDIS, loneliness

I get these daily messages from the Enneagram Institute, and this is what barely kept me from rewatching old Doctor Who:
The Direction of Growth for Nines is Three. When healthy Nines go to Three, they become self-assured and interested in developing themselves and their talents to the fullest extent possible. How can you more fully develop yourself today? (The Enneagram Institute, Personality Types, p369)
Still what with snow and children and weekends and such, I am asserting my rebelliousness by not meditating.
I think perhaps that I recognize that last bit of identity assertion as being lame.
I painted a wee little monster instead of watching a traveling time-lord. May I introduce to you the Tarasque? (hmm. sounds like TARDIS, and similar blue color...)

The Tarasque was a monster on a rampage in Nerluc, of Provence, France. According to one story it had a head like a lion, legs like a bear's (but six of them), the body of an ox wearing a turtle shell, and the tail of a scorpion. It burned all it touched, until Saint Martha tamed it, brought it back to the town, but the people killed the now docile beastie.
Sad story. But the townspeople felt bad and renamed their town Tarascon...

And now a few words on loneliness from Krishnamurti:
The entity who tries to fill or run away from emptiness, incompleteness, loneliness, is not different from that which he is avoiding; he is it. He cannot run away from himself; all that he can do is understand himself. He is his loneliness, his emptiness[.]” On Love and Loneliness p56

Sunday, February 16, 2014

On such a winter day...

It is beautiful outside, with last night's new fallen snow.

We went for a walk in the woods, Lucy and Emile in the wooden sled behind us. Behind Laurent, more accurately, as I did none of the pulling.

Then, perversely, I came home and painted this sunny spring abstractish landscapeish painting.

Emile and Laurent are back out in the snow, at Roger Williams Park, sledding.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Frogs and reducing media intake

In an effort to build my anti-sloth muscles, I am trying to cut down on reading, radio, and Dr. Who.

I feel happier. I think.

Here's a remix of an earlier frog, commissioned by a friend:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Progression of a portrait painting in acrylic

Nine figures. If you include the jellyfish.

Which I do.

I thought you might be curious what the process looked like.

sketches from photos:

 monochromatic acrylic wash sketch on paper:

create composite photo:

draw on prepared canvas with yellow pastel:

go over pastel using cadmium deep orange and a paint brush:

correct errors with color paint:

go whole hog:

Now I think I'll put some matte gel on it to finish. Or maybe some other varnish... I'll have to research this.

ETA: the only varnish I found which is non-toxic is the high gloss from Liquitex.

I'm not keen on high gloss. So I think I'll skip the varnishing thing.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

flowers and owls

Still noodling along... drawing owls, experimenting with pastels vs. acrylic.

I think I like the pastel version better. That probably means I like less precision more than it's opposite. Which means paint flowers with less of a precious eye, perhaps.

Thank you, Aunt Crystal, for the subject matter!

Also, here is a marvelous article on dealing with the uncertainties of life expectancy after cancer. 
In a way, though, the certainty of death was easier than this uncertain life. Didn’t those in purgatory prefer to go to hell, and just be done with it? Was I supposed to be making funeral arrangements? Devoting myself to my wife, my parents, my brothers, my friends, my adorable niece? Writing the book I had always wanted to write? Or was I supposed to go back to negotiating my multiyear job offers?
- Paul Kalanithi, New York Times, Jan 24 2014