Saturday, October 30, 2010

Walking in Gratitude

It's been quite the year for me...downsized out of my job, losing a substantial amount of pay, learning a new job, losing my husband, losing my dog. In between, I've had some amazing experiences that have kept me going when everything seemed lost...Las Vegas, Australia, Virginia, California. My son coming home to live with me a mixed blessing since that stretched my salary even thinner. Despite these moments, I have to confess that much of the time I felt like the steel ball in a pinball machine...being bounced from place to place, up and down, left and right and just when I think I have earned my rest, I get caught in a flapper and am sent back in the game to do it all again.
I've grieved, I've raged and, at times, I've given up. I've been drifting in a thick fog waiting for another shoe to drop, my feelings locked up in a straight jacket. Losing my faith. Feeling very alone....and sometimes scared. I wavered on giving up on art and seeking a second job, thinking there was no other way to go, but dreading the loss of my days off, the only time I have to breath. Yet there was the promise of unpaid furlough days, higher insurance premiums, and a future demotion and I needed to be on top of if that is even possible anymore. Decisions to more retreats or classes to take, no more art supplies, art dates, magazines or books, nothing but the basics, you see. Doom and gloom pervaded my thinking.

But then a serendipitous meeting with a fellow instructor, took place and she offered me a teaching spot at her new retreat (more on this in my next post). Despite my resolve to give up art, I found myself eagerly accepting. I spent three days in her class and the art flowed from my fingers. We took a class together at Art and Soul and the art kept coming. I ran into many of my friends at the Art and Soul Vendor Fair, and the warm blanket of friendship and caring that can only come from the friends you share in art washed over me. And I realized that I had focused so stubbornly on staying safe and in control, I had almost abandoned the very thing that makes life worth living.
Then came a wonderful offer from one of the members of my art group, Portland Art Collective, asking if I could take her spot at our annual fall retreat at Menucha since she was unable to go? I had wanted to go so much, but knew the responsible thing to do was to stay home and save money. But here it was, a present gifted to me at the time I needed it most. And over the next three days, in the cradle of this beautiful setting in the Columbia River Gorge, in the company of friends and artists, I felt myself becoming alive.

I realized I focused so much on what I had lost and was losing, I had neglected to give thanks for what I had....and what I had was so much more valuable than what I had lost. Instead of living in the present and practicing gratitude, I was living in the fearful future world of if's and might's, and in the past, where dark loss dominated the landscape. All the jobs and possessions in the world, do not come close to the value of friendship and the passion to create.

Life's still pretty scary, but I have my art, my friends and my faith that I will never be handed more than I can survive. And I know so many people that have so much less to count on. And each day I will practice gratitude that I still breath the sweet morning air...hear the geese singing themselves south...and see the flame of the fall trees as they celebrate their end in a blaze of glory. And thanks most of all, to all of you, for holding me true to my path in art and being there to show me the way.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Heartfelt Thanks to All of You

I want to give my sincere thanks to all of you who took the time to comment, email, call and send cards in sympathy for Alex's passing. Your words touched my heart and kept me going during this first tough week without him. I appreciate your support more than I have words to describe. Even while my heart was breaking, you filled it with your well wishes and words of wisdom. I am so grateful to have such friends. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Farewell to Alex

I lost my beloved Alex last night. There are no words to describe the loss....the hole it has left in my heart. He has been my faithful companion for seven years, ever since I brought him home from the humane society.

Alex had been abandoned, shot with a pellet gun resulting in a collapsed lung. His stomach had only a piece of foil and pine needles inside. A passing Good Samaritan took him to a vet who almost put him down, but could not bear to destroy this beautiful boy, so good natured and full of life. In the end, she donated her services and he was sent to a foster home to heal. Lucky me. The home he was fostered in was that of a co-worker who knew I was looking for a dog and hooked us up. The volunteers at the pound named him Alex the Awesome Aussie. You could not resist loving this dog.

Alex greated me faithfully everyday with a madly wagging stub of a tail and a frantic happiness that I was home again. No other creature demonstrates its love so faithfully as a dog. He accepted me as I was and never quibbled if dinner was late or I was too tired to take a walk. He was always at my side and more than one time provided a shoulder to cry on. Alex stubbornly would not fetch, but could sniff out even the smallest crumb of food and consume it, even if that meant standing on his hind legs and swiping things off the kitchen counter with his front paw. No garbage bag or can was safe from his exquisite nose.

His best friend was the small grey kitten I adopted two years ago and despite the difference in size, they wrestled and chased each other throughout the house everyday. They were inseparable...and Grace wanders the house now, not understanding what has happened to his friend.

Three months ago the vet told me his heart had a bulge where the wall of the heart was weak and pressing on his windpipe. She told me at most I would only have a year left to share my life with him. I had hoped for more time, but last night I knew....he could not lay down without cutting off his air and paced the house, seeking love and attention which I gave him in abundance. I told him how I loved him and what a privilege it had been to share his life and how I wished he did not have to go. I prayed he would live just until the next morning so I could take him to the vet, knowing there was nothing more to be done, but not willing to give up hope that I could squeeze a little more time with him.

But sometime in the night, he followed his nose and climbed up on the window seat to steal a little bit of cat food, just one more time and collapsed. His great heart beat no more. And that is where I found him and said my last goodbye.

Rest in peace, old dog. May you wake up in a dog park filled with green grass and four-legged friends, where you can run forever in the sun. May you be blessed with endless petting and scratches about your ear that fill your great heart with love everlasting.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Encaustic Jewelry

What an amazing class I had the privilege of taking at Art and Soul this year!!! The lovely Crystal Neubauer took a length of wire and added a bit of wax and collage to come up with some beautiful jewelry. Pins, pendants and more...absolutely beautiful! These pieces include some treasures I found at the beach a couple weeks ago and are combined with paper odds and ends I brought back from Australia. Crystal is a great instructor...she made this easy for everyone and we had no difficulty coming up with a finished piece or two or three by the end of the day. Can't wait to sit down and make some more....

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Fall at Klineline Pond

At the Pond

One summer
I went every morning
to the edge of a pond where
a huddle of just-hatched geese

would paddle to me
and clamber
up the marshy slope
and over my body,

peeping and staring-
such sweetness every day
which the grown ones watched,
for whatever reason,

Not there, however, but here
is where the story begins.
Nature has many mysteries,

some of them severe.
Five of the young geese grew
heavy of chest and
bold of wing

while the sixth waited and waited
in its gauze-feathers, its body
that would not grow.
And then it was fall.
And this is what I think
everything is all about:
the way
I was glad

for those five and two
that flew away,
and the way I hold in my heart the wingless one
that had to stay.
- Mary Oliver

I love the poetry of Mary Oliver and have spent many a cold night snuggled under a down comforter with a warm cup of tea and one of her many books, savoring words that touch both heart and soul. The poem above is one of my many favorites of hers. A few years ago, a group of friends and I spent the 90 days of winter writing a poem or paragraph of prose daily. Sometimes my fingers flew across the paper as my mind gave forth freely to writing about what I love most, nature and life intwined. Sometimes the best I could do was a few words as my mind froze with the need to write each day subverted by a stronger urge to procrastinate. But the challenge gave me no room to put off a daily time for creativity which all of us need to grow as artists. So I have decided to challenge myself again, come this winter solstice, but this time include a bit of photography to illustrate my writing. We're forecast to have a cold and icy winter...perfect weather for introspection and prose. Come join me if you dare...

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A Weekend of Heavenly Beeswax

I thought I was finished with classes this year. Both teaching and taking. But at the end of August, a phone call woke me from a sound sleep and a voice at the other end asked me if I was still interested in taking an encaustic class taught by Patricia Baldwin Seggebruch, author of Encaustic Workshop. I mumbled something like "no, I don't have the money now", hung up and went back to sleep....until my conscious mind said somthing like "are you crazy!? you've been trying to get into that class for months!!!" Now I'm really awake and I hit redial and call the Sitka Center and explain that I say some silly stuff if I'm not awake and yes I want to take the class. Alas, he had already offered it up to another woman and she had accepted. I was pretty disappointed and later sent an email asking to be put back on the list in hopes someone else would cancel and received an immediate call back. The woman had cancelled and I was in the class. So on a chilly, foggy fall morning, I take a trip to the Oregon coast for three days doing nothing but encaustic in a setting nestled between the Sitka pines overlooking the Salmon River estuary where it meets the sea at Cascade Head.
The drive heads through several suburbs of Portland. The rural beauty of Yamhill County sneaks up on you gradually. Acres of trees and fields peeking between buildings...quaint towns built upon wineries and tourism. Suddenly it seems the trees close in and you reach the Cascade range and feel as if you have turned back centuries of time and entered a premordial forest, hidden in the foggy mists....a dark forest full of the sounds of birds, and wind and babbling creeks. I imagine living here in a small cottage hidden deep with a stone fireplace and a warming fire...I miss the simplicity of living far from the sprawl of the city.

Before I know it, I am turning off at 3 Rocks Road that winds along the north side of the Salmon River estuary. The signs of fall are everywhere....browning grasses, turning leaves and a crisp freshness in the air that smells of hot chocolate, pumpkins and full harvest moons.

The center itself sits among the Sitka pines...old sentinels of the forest with octopus branches wrapped in moss and crevasses filled with fern fronds. You hear the song of birds drift through the trees...the soft tweets of chickadees and bushtits contrast sharply with the cawing of jays and crows.
And in the distance is the roar of the ocean, as it meets the Salmon River at Cascade Head. The breeze tickles your nose with salt and the smell of the sea.

But first I must get to my class. An amazing class. So amazing, that I took no photos to remember it by...I've never been in a class I did not stop to take photos, but in this class I was so busy trying the profusion of techniques Trish offered, I never stopped to think about my camera at all!!! A generous instructor, Trish provided us with an unending supply of beeswax. The heavenly smell filled the air for three days. Our first day was filled with basic instructions, easily understood and applied. No one stopped for a moment. We were ordered out of the room to take a lunch and few of us wanted to go. But it did give me a chance to run back to town for supplies I neglected to bring. I shared the class with 13 women and 1 man, all incredible artists. We not only learned from the instructor, but from sharing with each other, with many of us coming to this class as a new medium. In no time the day was over, and I took a drive to Siletz Bay where I love to comb the beach for treasures.

I wanted to preserve the many textures of the sand and beach stones as I processed in my mind all that I had learned this day. To be in the presence of so many artists is exhilerating and sets my mind spinning with possibilites.

I walk a new path now, full of uncertainty as I struggle to grow as an artist while coping with the stress of a new round of layoffs at work...asking myself is it possible to take a risk and make a career jump or go back to school no matter what age you are? Do I have the faith and strength to make a dream come true? When I take classes that fill my mind with creativity and possibilities, it does seem possible...even probable. My mind filled with thought, I headed back to my campsite, letting my thoughts drift among the stars in the sky...
Our second day of class, even better than the first...we are introduced to the lucious RF encaustic colors that melt like butter and pop with color on your pallette. We use exotic material such as asphalt patch, plaster, foil and charcoal. We incise, we fill, we carve away, we embed, we played with fire...nothing is out of bounds and we tried all that was offered. And a second day flew by in the blink of an eye, despite being allowed to stay until 6 PM. No time for a walk tonight, I head back to the campground again, and watch as clouds moved in and a gentle rain began to fall.
Our third day of class, we experiment with ATC sized boards, cutting a larger pieces into smaller pieces making a dozen separate art works from the original, making inchies...I even covered a magnet with a little piece of encaustic work. I've never completed so much work in any class I have taken...both the result of a good instructor and a forgiving medium that hardens so quickly, you can work non-stop until the piece is complete. All too soon it's time to clean up and go. I leave with a dozen new pieces and several new friends and a wealth of information to take my encaustic to the next level. But before I go back, I go back to walk the beach...a meditation of the heart that fills my soul...even in the driving rain of a fall storm.
And here are some of the pieces I created in class....some complete....some waiting for the next spare moment I have to continue working in my favorite medium....but first comes Art and Soul...