Friday, March 27, 2020
Week one of isolation is coming to a close in our household. Ryan has been on administrative leave from his job but also remains on call as needed. Same for the week ahead. And the week after that. Maybe longer but who knows, right now. I am trying to work as usual but can't focus on much for very long, so the days feel choppy and lengthy both, in a weird way. I keep forgetting about the pandemic for brief periods of time, then remembering with a jolt akin to seasickness. Turning to books still isn't working for me, but I keep trying. A list of what I've picked up and put back down, in the last two weeks:
Spirit of Place - Laurence Durrell
Meditations - Marcus Aurelius
Autobiography - Morrissey
Songs of Unreason - Jim Harrison
The Diary of Virginia Woolf (found all five volumes)
The Early Diary of Frances Burney
Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad - Austin Kleon
I got 49 pages in with Durrell, 14 pages in with Marcus Aurelius, 47 pages with Morrissey, skipped around in Harrison before deciding not to continue, made headway in zero pages with Woolf, and started where I left off some months ago on page lxxxvii in the interminable preface of the Fanny Burney set. Austin Kleon's book is the only thing I might actually finish this week (Workman 2019). I'm on page 135 and am finding it most helpful. It is exactly what he says it is, a guide to working on your art, in any form it takes, no matter what. It's not too heavy but at the same time has a terrific big-picture vibe that is appropriately doomy.
Up next I have a copy of art critic Jerry Saltz's brand new book How to Be an Artist (Riverhead 2020), and I'm looking forward to being able to attempt to concentrate on it sometime soon. I could say the same about my own art practice. Oil painting is not happening for me right now. I keep picking things up in my studio and putting them right back down again. The one project I do seem to be able to make headway with is the little gouache illustrated book I started making last winter. I set it aside after a few months and it's been dormant since then. I decided to look at it again and see what I could do. This week so far I've made a number of gouache paintings, written a few pages of possible text - each page only has a few words on it, but hey, I'll take them - and interleaved most of them into my existing manuscript. Here are a few of the paintings, on bristol board. They are quite small:
Making one at a time, in short stints, is working for me, and I feel so grateful! Animals, birds, natural things like leaves and feathers, landscapes real and imagined - these are what show up and they help reaffirm my love of the natural world. Everything goes into mylar page protecters in a big three-ring binder, and the whole thing is starting to feel really good and book-like, when I flip through it. Some places need more illustrations and others need more words, but it's 90% done, I think. About a hundred pages, a gentle manifesto about the seasons and my beliefs. Yay me.
My other book, the long wordy one, sits the way my empty canvases do, waiting for me to settle enough to focus on them for long stretches of time. Time I have, focus I do not. So I will keep on with the small work and let the rest be, for a while. Normal life feels like a wonderful dream. Meanwhile we take it day-to-day and count our blessings, here at home. The routine I have is a good one. Early morning yoga, a shower (still with my hand in a plastic bag because of my finger, which is healing up), breakfast. Morning work inside, and when the sun is warm, morning work outside in the yard and garden. Lunch, then a long walk with Ryan. We are going three to five miles a day. Then afternoon work, and some quiet time outside again before sunset. An evening meal of sorts, keeping it light, then books I pick up and put back down, and videos we watch together. All this is interspersed with news, email, phone calls, and conversations with our neighbors out in the street, from safe distances. Only a few cases of the virus have been documented in our community, but state authorities assure us there are more that haven't been. And many more in nearby cities and towns. We stay apart to protect ourselves and others. Please do the same, whenever possible. Let the storm pass by, while we shelter from it. And protect the helpers, those living and working in the epicenters, who cannot shelter. Good prayers, for every day.
Friday, March 20, 2020
♫ ♪ ♪ Turn and face the strange, ch-ch-changes ♫ ♪ ♫ and make up your own next line, to this familiar song, because everything sure has changed, and fast. Ryan and I were talking last night about the great little library sale we went to almost two weeks ago, where we saw some old friends, browsed around with happy anticipation, purchased four bags of books, bought groceries on the way home, and generally enjoyed life. It seems like months ago, now. I cleaned, coded, and priced most of the books, the day after I bought them, and they still sit in the front hall today. They will be there for a long time, I think. They're not going anywhere. And neither are we. Except for necessities when we absolutely must, and of course to get out into the wild. We are so fortunate here in Maine that the big open spaces of nature are all around us, and remain accessible. Beaches, trails, land preserves, quiet roads we can walk on - as spring arrives they will be saving graces, as they always are. I am lucky in that I usually work on my own, and in solitude. That will continue, I hope. I don't yet know what will happen to my summer painting season, but since there is nothing I can do about that, and it is tiny in the grand scheme of things, I set it on the back burner in my mind and let it cool down. Ryan will be telecommuting after today, as the college he works at transitions to online everything. We have income, health insurance, and some savings, to help us get through, and share with family and friends who will be in need when things get worse, as it seems they will. A lot has shut down. Friends and neighbors are already out of work. We are planning to buy their goods and services when we can. Heartbreaking, all of this. I can hardly get my mind around it.
Books are not helping at the moment, but I think this state of affairs is only temporary, as I struggle to accept the changes. I can't seem to settle on anything. I've started a bunch of books in the last two weeks and each time I pick one up and read a little, I put it back down and think, Nope, that's not it. I don't know what I'm looking for. Peace, perhaps, and a lessening of anxiety, but those are both in short supply. Because of world events, yes, but also, did I mention that I cut my finger by accident last week, in the kitchen, and our local doctor glued it up for me, and wrapped it, and told me not to get it wet? Yeah, that happened. I saw her again this week, and she said the same. So. No full-on hand-washing allowed. I'm using little alcohol and witch hazel pads to swab the bandages down from time to time, and of course washing the rest of my hands and self as best I can, but wow, the latent ocd I usually manage to keep in check is raging right now! Which would be funny, if it wasn't! Anyway, a difficult situation is made more difficult by my own actions. Thanks for visiting, Fate. My finger will be fine, with time. It's on my non-dominant hand and is a worrisome inconvenience at most. I hold it up a lot to keep it out of the way (like now, while writing this) and it looks like I'm pointing all the time: Hey you, and you, and you! Yes, you.
What shall we do in the coming weeks and months to keep ourselves engaged and grateful and community-minded? I am blank on that, at least for now, but glad to see that some of my favorite authors are doing wonderful things. Like Rob Macfarlane, who is hosting a reading club on his twitter feed, and the book this weekend is the quietly magnificent nature memoir The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd. I spoke of it after reading it in the summer of 2018. If you haven't yet tracked down a copy, this might be an excellent time to do so. It's in print, so you can call your local independent bookseller and they will ship it to you, or find it secondhand from a used book seller on Biblio, or from Powell's, which has had to close its doors for now but is still selling online. Emily Powell's letter about their shut-down says how we all seem to feel about what is happening in our country and around the world, the unthinkable. History is engulfing us as we speak. And yet I look out the window and see the first crocuses of spring, opening up, and radiating their essential nature. Let's do the same and continue to share the good, no matter what.
I'm going to take my old turntable up to the studio and listen to records this afternoon, while I gesso canvases. Preparing surfaces to paint on is always a joy, for me, and an act of faith. I anticipate filling the empty canvases with beauty, light, shadow, and life, in the months ahead. I hope with all my heart that we will weather whatever happens. Stay safe and be well, friends.