Monday, July 25, 2011

TW3 - There are babies!

Cliff Swallow Nests - Babies are the spotted faces

The first time in my adult life I moved east of the Mississippi it was to Washington, DC. A history buff especially of the period from 1860 to 1910 I toured every Civil War battle field I could and would look at the trees anxiously awaiting fall. As a westerner I was looking forward to all the oranges and reds of the eastern forests but I got hired by a US Senator running for re-election and suddenly one day in late October I noticed I was trodding on soaked brown leaves. I had totally missed fall!

You miss an awful lot when you are overly busy. When I announced I was not going to do any more art fairs one of my on line friends asked if that meant there were going to be more Cliff Swallow photographs posted. Yes!
Acrobatic parent bringing food to chicks in nest

I was in my twenties when I first missed fall in DC. I am no longer a spring chicken and there are not that many more falls and springs and summers I want to miss because of being too busy. Yesterday I sat on my studio porch with my Nikon D90 and the 70mm - 300mm lens and caught up with the progress of the Cliff Swallows. Amazing birds.

Two juvenile birds in nest behind parent launching into flight

And while there I decided to catch up on this year's humming birds too. Everyone else has been posting pictures of these amazing visitors but me it seems.

Seems I was always too busy to do more than feed them. And this year with the drought and very few flowers feeding them is something I was falling behind on until lately. These little creatures can go through a quart a day.
While this Rufus was sucking it up the feeder sent bubbles to the top not unlike those water coolers in offices. It can be rather funny.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Retirement? Rain? Refreshing the Spirit?

And, Who are you? the caterpillar asked of Alice.

I have been focusing, or rather not focusing on that question this last couple of weeks. I am no longer President of Moreno Valley Arts Council nor a member of the board. I have resolved to quit fairs but I am still an artist. Yes? A working artist? And what if yes am I working at?

When young I saw a western movie about a town in the midst of drought. I lived at the time in the high desert southwest so absence of rain was a regular common thing. But even to my rather young mind it seemed that more than rain was missing from the residents of this fictional town. It was as if their spirits were also drying up.

If you got lost in that quick change of subject - or seemingly switch of track - go back to the title.

With the openness in my schedule I found myself staring at the skies for any sign of the hoped for but definitely late monsoons. I waited for rain as I waited for inspiration. The drought was in my soul as well as in the land around me. And at the same time I tried not to rush to fill the void.

In that space I worked from time to time on catching up with all the abandoned things my hectic schedule had left behind, and took time out to share some windshield time with a friend. And then began two paintings on revisited subjects. Artists revisit because they don't think they have it totally right. And it was two thoughts I wanted cleared out of the corners of my mind. Not unlike decluttering the laundry alcove.

And yesterday while painting it began to rain. And it rained almost all day. The paintings, which I had intended to be dark, are bright. Ideas of what to paint next seem to be milling around in the back of my head as I ponder which paintings to take to the Old Pass Gallery Member's show. And I am pondering a photographic project. Me and my camera and 30 days in my wilderness. 

Being too busy for too long does create wastelands.

And poetry.
The key, I think, is to not rush to artificially fill the void. Wait for inspiration like we must wait for rain.

Oh, back to the caterpillar and Alice: We so often answer that question of Who We Are with what we do. Are we that?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

TW3 - Failure to Communicate

Wild sunflowers drenched in rain
As an accidental gardener I often wonder why it is that wildflowers you neglect, and weeds you try to destroy survive more than the flowers and plants you pay fortunes for and go to every effort to nurture. It is not the only paradox in the universe. It can be harder to start a fire than stem a random spark, or stop a malicious rumor with a single drop of the truth.

A week ago Sunday I resigned from my office of president of the board of a non-profit organization and from the board itself after ten years of active participation. I admit I took the easy way out. To have remained would have required some very difficult decisions and also created a maelstrom. To leave has just generated the wildest field of rumors believable. From my hideaway in Black Lake it has been interesting to watch; not unlike the blossoming of wildflowers and weeds in the parched earth beyond my sprinklers.

I used to care a lot about public opinion but I find, as I grow older, that people will believe what they want to believe and the truth generally matters not. Look at the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial for instance. Besides I have been rather busy reordering my life. I have always believed that spirit abhors a vacuum and the openness I have created by deciding not to do art fairs, or lead a non-profit organization will be filled with bigger and better things. Even if that is only a wildflower of brilliant but brief duration in the immediate future. The exercise is to live in the question and not rush for the answers.

It took a week but the paintings are rehung and yesterday I actually sat down and finished one I had begun. One that did not fit my "style" but was an interesting experiment in techniques. It is hard to play with art when everyone figures they know what to expect from you, and it is difficult to waste time exploring techniques when a show looms to prepare for. I spoke with a student this week about tithing to the muse. It is so easy to fall into the raging waters of I must produce - this painting must be perfect - and get carried away with achieving perfection or rescuing a "mistake." We do learn from our mistakes if we will allow ourselves to make them. So we must tithe by playing with our talent - being open to the possibilities.

During the course of that lesson I worked on a few little examples on scraps of canvas. One of them begs me to explore further in that direction. And I look at the others and wonder if I could work them into a collage. I have not done a collage of scraps of this and that for decades. Too busy with my "real life." I have come to realize this week that I was too busy to notice what was real.

As for the weeds and wildflowers growing beyond the sprinkler's reach - they are pretty and survivors. And the rumors? They have a life of their own, but those that matter will know them lies. Back to the studio today to play.

Monday, July 11, 2011

TW3 - Stampede!

Did you watch Rawhide when you were young? It and Bonanza were must views in my family. We only had only one television, one telephone, and until I was in high school only one car. I think that made it more necessary that we communicate with each other especially when crowded into the living room or the car (no back seat DVD viewer), but I digress. This blog is about cattle and stampedes.

I have lived much of my life in and/or near ranch country. Even in my Rawhide watching days. I would look at the dumb, placid creatures seemingly unable to exert independent thought beyond the herd collective and try to understand the oh so frequent stampedes on that television show. My father and his ranch owning friends tried to assure me that cows were fickle and skittish animals and the least little thing could set them off especially when crowded together in a drive or a pen. I thought they were putting me on until I witnessed a small stampede due to Saint Elmo's fire.

People are not unlike cattle. We do herd well as long as the grass is good, but we are skittish and rather fickle. And pack us too close together in strange circumstances and we get that walleyed look and collectively run for the exits. The cowboys of old were given to talking and singing to the cattle especially on night herd or when heading into a narrow draw or across a river crossing or the wind up. It keeps them calm. You definitely never call them stupid cows in a certain tone of voice.

I believe one of the stupidest things leaders do with humans is try to herd them blindly without regard to what the herd wants (see previous TWC blogs about GWBush), and when something goes wrong immediately attempt to declare fault: "Him! Not me! I didn't do it." Generally said in that same tone of voice as "Stupid Cows."

Dad used to say I was a cat masquerading  as a cow. And it is wise to remember that cats cannot be herded. I am always, despite looks to the contrary, totally aware when I am being managed (human herding) and will drift along if it is where I want to go all the time looking for an avenue of escape. Or a way to change the herd the way I want to go. Dad said I was rather good at leading from the rear, which is something generals do, but again I digress.

I have been rather focused on issues of transportation of late and moving along with the herd somewhat blindly but still filtering in bits and pieces of discord. This week the transportation issue was temporarily solved and I could give the collective my full attention. I realized rather suddenly I had gone way too far down this one draw. Note it is not easy to stop in the middle of herd movement. And it does tend to make other members of the herd a bit skittish. (See previous blogs on critical mass and angle of repose.) So I just signaled for a couple quick turns and hoped it would lead me to the off ramp. Everyone pretended to not hear me or smile that she-will-change-her-mind smile.

I think artists are like cats not cows. And we herd together into rooms and buildings to ply our wares but we are out of our element (the lonely studio of our design), and having to play nice with people we wouldn't share our sandbox with. It is a time for that night drover to pass by singing a gentle tune (See Sons of the Pioneers) or walk along and talk to us as sentient humans (See Startrek:TNG). Running to the cellphones and communicating with spindoctors, especially if things are not going well, really does not work (see first paragraph digression about communication).

I get bullheaded (Mother's term) in such situations. Every single claw comes out and I hold fast to my position like a cat not wanting to go to the vet, especially when someone as good as my mother at passive/aggressive management is trying to get me in that cat carrier while mumbling, "stupid cow" or "if you would just go gently" to the slaughter house.

Bottomline I am running straight for the exits. I will hold out in my sandbox until I find a herd going my direction. Maybe.

PS: I did put on those turn signals. Someone should have listened.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Trying to get back on track

Some sidetracks are just more exhausting than others. And more dangerous. And definitely more difficult to return to the original track and schedule. Losing the Astro Van was one of those derailments that has had very far reaching ramifications to my life. Especially since it happened after a tooth extraction by an oral surgeon and spending $1300 for the head gasket that was going to solve my problems but didn't.

I was in such a financial hole I could not just zip out and plunk money down on another vehicle. And I was at a bit of a crossroads - or switching yard - on my career as an artist. If I was going to continue with fairs I needed one type of vehicle and if I wasn't I didn't. Fortunately friends were generous with loans of vehicles while I pondered just how to get back on track - and which track.

I like the above historic photograph of a derailment of the Chile Line narrow gauge at the infamous trestle. You can almost hear the workings of all the minds trying to figure out what next. I kept hoping for someone to tell me what to do. My ex-husband, Marc, who I lost last year was always good for that. I hated it when we were married but in the 10 years since my head injury I had become quite dependent on his advice especially with mechanical issues. If nothing else his advice set the direction I did not want to go.

This time my limits were set by the economy. I thought a 10 year old car was a good idea. It was almost three years younger than the one just lost. But nobody wants to loan money on that age of car. Especially to someone that had deliberately stayed out of the credit bog for six years. I quickly found out I could buy a new car easier than an old car. But I don't want a new car. I also don't want credit cards. But it seems that paying your mortgage and all your bills don't establish credit. Owing money on plastic does that. And obviously only that. Even having a car loan and a mortgage you pay does not give you a great credit score.

If I want choices about how I spend my money on a car I have to have credit cards. Which it is to be noted are not easy to get without other credit cards. I remember being at this point right after my first divorce. But back then you could count on having paid your electric and telephone bills to be significant in your credit rating except that regardless of whether I wrote the checks for payment all credit was in HIS name. I had to put down huge deposits before I could get a phone or apartment or buy a bed.

My father, who could have easily given me the money, chose instead to call up credit companies and threaten them with sexism suits or told me exactly what to say to them. How to hit and getting a lawyer, etc. Step by step I was reluctantly welcomed into the world of plastic which I discovered when you lose your job from a serious accident is a death trap.

And I had not paid attention to miles of new track being laid since the banks got bailed out. Interest rates are insane. Would you believe 19.5% for a ten year old car? And 14% for a $300 balance limit on a credit card plus $90 annual fee. I am going through sticker shock and I have yet to walk on to a car lot.

And there have been some major schisms. Take State Farm. I have my home, small business and auto policies with them and have been a customer for 40 years (except for two years with Allstate when State Farm would not let me switch to another agent when the one I had made sexual advances) and yet they would not consider an auto loan because of a zero credit rating. That was when I found making prompt payments to my mortgage company and all utilities did not count. My bank was rather shocked the mortgage didn't count.

I am now seeking rate quotes from AARP, Geico, Safeco, and several other insurance companies. If State Farm is not loyal to me why should I be loyal to them. And it looks like I may even save money by switching my loyalties.

I think I have made a stop gap deal on a vehicle that is not my dream but will allow me time to find out what is. And to obviously re-build my credit. One person told me an auto loan was the way to do that but obviously not. Any one with any advice out there?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Also Ran

Dad always said it was the difference of opinion that made horse racing possible. He was full of antidotes designed to inspire. And us kids had to be winners. You play the game to win or you play it not at all. I realized after the 10th Monopoly board was torn up by my father things had to change. My brother screamed it was not his fault. I was a bad loser. I countered that my brother was a hideous winner. He narrated his wins as if he was Howard Cosell. I withdrew from the family competitions unless badgered to play. My brother cheated, my dad was unbeatable, and I wanted to play a game that was not win or lose.

I used to love tennis but for everyone else it was a blood sport. Play with a date and there is no way you can win because if you win you never date again. When a boyfriend on a DC tennis court went ballistic when I returned his serve I walked off the court leaving my racket behind. I retired to crossword puzzles, and solitary creative activities. But it seems that even art is competitive. And there is enough competition drilled into my soul that I compete. I win prizes but not sales evidently. I resent being compared to other artists. It is like apples and oranges, but others will always keep score. And they will tell you what the score is. I am sick and tired of that. I am about to walk off the court again.

I paint not to sell though it is nice to sell; it buys materials and opens up space on the walls. But I paint what I am moved to paint. I paint in the colors I like to paint in and that express what I want to come out in the painting. I hate decorative art. I could never do 1000 daisies or 200 churches. I redo a subject because I don't feel I have it right yet. I do not think of my competition when I paint. It is all about the conversation between me and my muse.

Can I still have that conversation and not compete? Can you run the race when you get continually splattered with mud from the hooves of the retreating field?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Missing Week

I woke up yesterday to find the month of June was gone, and with it half of 2011. And today when I went to my dashboard to check on posts I found I had gone a week and posted nothing on Blogspot. And yet my mind has buzzed with ideas.

Mentally I have been composing a Travels with Charley Blog about fire restrictions in the parched mountains around me, but I am almost afraid to breathe or whisper a word about fire. Yesterday I was livid about visitors to the area ignoring all the restrictions put in place. Probably need to chill out before I write about that. And credit scoring may trump it.

And my usual TW3 weekly post here on Sidetracked Charley I kept delaying for another day so I could say something definitive. But it has been one of those weeks of just putting one foot in front of the other or standing in one spot hoping nobody notices you are afraid to move.

As for Creative Journey: That is stalled. I don't feel all that creative of late. I have avoided painting in favor of photographs. And if I cannot write prose how can I write poetry. Oh, well there is always next week.