Postcard from Colombia

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world. ”

— Gustave Flaubert

I am currently in Colombia with my family cramming as much in as we possibly can between Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena. Traveling tilts you off axis, which to my mind, is a very good thing. Our family becomes more intimate as we push into close quarters, and reliant on each other for company.

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The Mean

"Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words. It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator. Always remember there is a human being on the other end of every exchange and behind every cultural artifact being critiqued. To understand and be understood, those are among life’s greatest gifts, and every interaction is an opportunity to exchange them." -Maria Popova

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Arriving at My Own Door

I do regret the energy I spent trying to prove that I had something to offer. It made me vulnerable to sabotage - either through my own anxiety, or by crazymakers. I didn’t listen nearly enough to instinct...

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Poetry in Motion

The other day I explained to our son why I am such a poetry junkie. I told him a good poem could blanch a bit of darkness or make me feel more connected to this vast network of ours. And that a great line will cast something familiar into a different relief and make me look again. But, most of all, poetry gives me the next clue. "Like in a treasure hunt you mean,” he said. Exactly.

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Conspicuous Consumption

This year I want to create more, and consume less. I am a somewhat reformed magpie in terms of material stuff, but I want to address other kinds of consumption -- my constant nose diving into the national news for instance. It’s an addiction that is chomping into my creative life as I scramble to look at the news each morning.  My husband is a writer, and pulled me out of this self sabotage by sharing a snippet from a recent interview.

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One Thousand

One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”  Khaled Hosseini 

On the studio walls....

On the studio walls....

I have broken through to the other side and have a thousand followers on Instagram.  It seems like a pyrrhic achievement. What’s the big deal? It’s not the affirmation that people might think I’m cool, successful, hot, or hip. After all, there are plenty of Instagram stars. Taylor Swift probably has the same number of followers as Warren Buffet has dollars. I'm not interested in convincing anyone that my life is glamorous or that my thigh circumference is perfect. My feed is simply about my studio and the visual delights that I stumble into, and  inspire me, and my creative life.  And occasionally, something personal that intersects with my virtual visual cabinet of curiosities. So my pleasure in hitting 1K is about connection to, and with, a creative community  who want to swap images and ideas like baseball cards.

Here is what I’ve observed:

  1. I have discovered that there is a rich community of artists and visionaries that proliferate outside of the sanctioned art world who make exceptional work. Most of them have tidier studios than mine. There are many interesting voices out there that I would otherwise miss. 

  2. I can now toss around phrases like organic reach, influencer and audience engagement with impunity and earn eye rolls from my teenager.

  3. I'm still baffled by the “follow / unfollow” trend!

  4. I'm still baffled by all the thong selfies who follow me -- not a fit.

  5. I’m not sure it's such a good thing to have this quasi literacy, and not, say be fluent in Italian instead.  

  6. Launching on all of these social media platforms takes a great deal of time.

  7. To preserve your time as an artist, you need to consider hiring someone who is a professional in this world. I did this instead of buying likes. My words and images are my own of course, but I would never get anything done as a wife, mother, artist, gardener, advocate, farm manager, writer's residency host,  to name a few, if I had to market and post everything.  If you can afford it, do it. If you cannot, consider a trade or possibly using a virtual assistant! I found Maria Brannon--Lightning Flash Creative, through my friend Sissy Yates and never looked back! She's been my trustworthy spirit guide in this rather baffling social media universe. 

  8. I take the weekends off and observe an internet sabbatical. I found I was getting hooked on the endorphin of being "liked" and this was the remedy.

  9. I have results. I sell a great deal more work than I did out of my galleries or my studio, and so many of my family and friends now understand the extent to which I am a professional since they follow my narrative online.

  10. This process has reinforced my love of writing. I am now writing outside of my journals and have written a book.

  11. Finally, and most importantly, I feel gratitude to all you good people who are engaging with me in a sincere and thoughtful way. I am delighted by it. I really do feel that the world will be a better place if we all tend to a creative impulse. Truly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soul Sister

You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp. Anne Lamott
Getting Bunny ears right before getting into my wedding dress. 

Getting Bunny ears right before getting into my wedding dress. 

This Monday marked the second year without Heather.  She was part of my life on this ground for 49 years, and still is, of course, but is now part of an interior landscape of shades, yearning and nostalgia.  A great sister--and mine was--makes you visible, affirms you. Women tend to be listeners -- we listen to our kids, to dinner partners, to the disgruntled parents at school, to the lonely contractor, to the dissatisfied soul at the post office, to the neighbor, to other members of the family. As an introvert with a powerful "look at me, don't look at me" dynamic, this is a safe place, but an isolated one. Heather was the one who listened to me, and was interested in the quotidian details of my life, alongside the more opaque side of my inner life. She was honest when my paintings baffled her, or when I was prone to lazy thinking,  and honest when she thought I was wrong. We would call each other when we were having fat and ugly days, or poor poor pitiful me days, or when we just needed a bitch session. We could move from the trivial to the complex with ease. She would call to ask if my daughter was over a cold, to learn of our son’s antics, what I thought of a particular book or a Krista Tippett interview, or wonder if I was sleeping well since women in our family struggle with insomnia. There was never impatience, just a flow of conversation. And like all sisters, we shared a repository of family lore and drama. My husband is my best friend, but Heather was my North Star.

Initially my loneliness was so acute that I was simply functioning the first year without her.I felt invisible and small. These feelings have morphed, they way they always do, into a gentler, constant current. I eased back into the world of joy and light and delight, but the undertow remains.  As the writer Anne Lamott put it: ”you learn to dance with a limp.”

At a wedding reception in San Antonio

At a wedding reception in San Antonio

When she was diagnosed with cancer, I called her at least once a day.  When I called she would pick up the line and ask, “Is this my daily harassment call?”

“Why yes it is,” I would respond.

And off we’d go. We fell into the good habit of telling each other “I love you” at the close of every call until the cancer moved into her brain and swept away her ability to communicate well over the lines.    

For years, I worried that I loved Heather more than she loved me.  I fretted that she disapproved of my wild child ways, especially when she was grounded in the rigor of parenting small children--we led opposite lives and my freedom might have seemed unearned and carefree, while her domesticity seemed safe, respectable and out of reach. She was an academic, a theologian, and lived in a world of reason. She harvested conclusions with discipline, while my artistic world was more emotional, chaotic and charged, relying on visual cues and sloppy mysticism. There was often no linear progression to my own career as a painter, no tidy accumulation of accomplishments. She harvested degrees like the dedicated academic she was. And though generous of spirit, she was more emotionally reserved and restrained than I. I lean towards impulsive thinking and speech, with a dash of hyperbole. She always took a more disciplined route to her conclusions. When I was young and much more literal, I mistook her reserve, her pointed glance over reading glasses and that wry smile below as a form of censure.  

When my life got upended by autoimmune disease after the birth of my first child, I  finally realized how much her  love bound us, filling in any crack in our differences. Heather went into motion and was my advocate-in-chief.  She coaxed me out of many an emotional mouse hole time and time again.  When we lost our mother, we knew we lost a singular champion. But we still had each other, and we were closer than ever  before. It took many years to really absorb the lesson embedded in poetry, in literature -- in all of the arts: that unconditional love is not evaluated measure for measure,  but is just a constant that we take for granted. That lesson never comes early enough.

 

Flower Stalker

Rocky Mountain Penstemon

Rocky Mountain Penstemon

I am a wildflower stalker, albeit a haphazard one.  My dedication falters when learning proper nomenclature.  My mother started me on this path when I was a child. We hiked in the same hills where I now live --the Colorado Rockies --  and before each hike she would load the nylon hunter orange drawstring  backpack with sunscreen, sandwiches ,water bottles, army surplus rain ponchos and always, always the battered,  thumbed wildflower guidebook. The sandwiches would be smashed and inedible by lunchtime but we weren't allowed to complain. How could we with those views, these mountains, that meadow of flowers?

False Dandelion

False Dandelion

 

My mother  taught me all the quaint names -- bread and butter, monkshood, elephant pagoda, false sunflower and Indian paintbrush. We had to stop on each hike and peer at flowers and ponder their identification. Of course she was also teaching us reverence, but I only cottoned on to this as an adult. Now it's karmic payback as my own kids suffer my abrupt roadside pullovers to snap a photo for later identification.  In their minds, I think the needle of my eccentric scale is now well beyond unusual and has leaned into embarrassing. 

Scarlet Gilia

Scarlet Gilia

But the bottom line is that my mother slowed me down and taught me how to look, really look and notice the ant on the stamen, or how the wind moved the leaves on a stem or how to be astonished by how many hues one blossom can capture.  She developed my artists's eye as we explored the natural world.  Someday I will get to thank her. 

 

Multiflowered Phlox

Multiflowered Phlox

Service Berry Bush

Service Berry Bush

Alpine Lupine

Alpine Lupine

High Alpine Meadow

High Alpine Meadow

Beast of Burden

“They are all beasts of burden in a sense, ' Thoreau once remarked of animals, 'made to carry some portion of our thoughts.' Animals are the old language of the imagination; one of the ten thousand tragedies of their disappearance would be a silencing of this speech.”  Rebecca Solnit

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I have decided to join the drawing/painting/collage a day challenge  for many reasons, not the least of which is to force my hand. And it gave me an excuse to buy a honking big sketch book that just went on sale at our local art supply vendor. I decided to commit to a year’s time and be flexible with venue. Maybe the drawing/painting/collage will be in my tanker size journal, maybe it will be in my planner, or on a cocktail napkin. But I wanted to have a theme to get me out of the gate and keep me on course.

 Pyrenean Ibex R.I.P.

 Pyrenean Ibex R.I.P.

Last month I attended a lecture on climate change given by the renowned scientist Tom Lovejoy. Among his many, many accolades, he has been crowned the godfather of biodiversity. Currently he is a Senior Fellow at the United Nations Foundation and University Professor in the Environmental Science and Policy Department at George Mason University. He also works on the ground  in Brazil. He was also a good friend of my mother’s, an avid conservationist, who turned me into one. Since he stayed with us, I had the opportunity to get to know him outside the context of their friendship. Tom is wry, gentle and humble, despite the fact that he occupies a very big stage in the environmental arena and wages a constant battle against ignorance and greed in his quest to save the Amazon, and with it, our earth.  His visit and lecture inspired me to to research extinctions --  particularly in the last century --most of which were precipitated, or at least, enhanced by mankind’s reckless behavior. I decided to memorialize some of these fauna and flora to begin my personal challenge. I started with the Pyrenean Ibex. Celia, the last of her subspecies, died in the Iberian Peninsula  in 2000. There was a brief attempt at cloning her, but this failed.  You can learn more about this wild goat by clicking HERE

or pick up Elizabeth Kolbert's excellent book, The Sixth Extinction, at your bookstore.

Googlemania

The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless. Jean-Jacques Rousseau
 

Google bike 

Google bike 

My kids would be the first to tell you that I am so not on the cusp of the new, new thing, or the new thing. Or even just the thing. But after a recent trip to silicon valley and a tiny tour of google, I gained five minutes of hipness in their eyes.  

View from the vegetable garden

View from the vegetable garden

My husband is involved with Conservation International, and we got a glimpse of how google is partnering with conservation groups, and sharing their prodigious coding expertise and data collection, to monitor the health, or lack thereof, of our planet. The implications are encouraging -- we  can tackle problems in a more targeted fashion instead of being trapped by the feeling of helplessness and general handwringing. You can see in real time (almost) where fish are being harvested illegally, or where a forest is being pulled down, or where mountains are being blasted down to anthills. The "whos" of this process are a whole different matter. I love this kind of collaboration between the profit and nonprofit worlds, and it was a thrill to be in a universe that was so foreign, so innovative and playful. There were even topics to think about in the bathroom stalls -- all equipped with Toto toilets.  My stall door had a plastic pouch to showcase articles of interest. In mine was an article called “Code for the Commode” which I’m sure was very clever, but was incomprehensible to me

Google cardboard in action

Google cardboard in action

We returned with a more portable innovation -- google cardboard, and our kids have been jumping down the rabbit hole and exploring this extraordinary google tool. I put aside my trepidation about virtual reality and joined them. We looked at U2’s collaboration with musicians from around the world, and explored places of wonder. It really is visually sumptuous, though I had to take a break because it gave me serious vertigo because I was always whipping around in circles, trying to capture the three dimensional experience. 

Colliseum in Rome

Colliseum in Rome

Of course this device has already been featured everywhere from the NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/newsgraphics/2015/nytvr/ to Wired http://www.wired.com/2015/06/inside-story-googles-unlikely-leap-cardboard-vr/and back again, and is only a new, new thing to me. To get one here….https://www.google.com/get/cardboard/

In this case, seeing really is believing.