December 31, 2013

Closing Out the Year

   The above is a photo Nora took in our garden which I ended up turning into cards for this year.  

Here I am, looking at a chasm of seven and a half months since my last post and wondering how to even begin to cover that distance.  And yet I feel I need to close out the year in some way.  It hasn't been an easy year and no, no printmaking except for the Waterlily Mandala print I finished in April.  That's it, one print this whole year.  That's terrible really!  I began sketching out what I thought would be my next one after I finished the mandala but I never even completed the sketch.  Can I blame this on depression? Can I say it finally caught up with me?  Here's what's been going on.

After my parents got moved to the care home and I turned their kitchen into the dedicated printing space I'd dreamed of having one day, I went through a brief surge of excitement at having that space available to me.  I tried not to allow too much thought for the big "why" behind my having the space; I worked to keep my emotions in check and forced myself to focus on clearing out stuff and making the downstairs feel more like us and less like my parents.  Yet as inviting as I tried to make it down there, my inspiration for working on anything beyond the mundane seemed to seep away.  I kept myself busy with other things but couldn't bring myself to sit down and draw.  

A huge part of that was that Sundays, which used to be my printmaking days, became "visit my parents in the care home days" and those visits leave me wrecked.  Bearing witness to their increasing dementia and the associated indignities the disease brings with it is difficult and overwhelming.  Alongside, we're dealing with a major decline in the health of one of our closest friends, had to put our dog down in the summer, and became empty nesters when Nora moved out to start life with the BF.  As a caveat, before this post starts resembling a litany of sorrows, we now have a beautiful new pup and, also, Nora's departure isn't all bad, but ultimately this was a year of major changes.  

I believe that creativity is very closely linked to the emotions.  In my artwork, I feel an emotional response to something...a place that moves me, a idea or concept that resonates on an emotional level...and I want to express that outwardly.  To translate that response in some tangible way.  Over the course of this past year, I've struggled to deaden my emotions.  To not feel the weight of the sadness and helplessness I'm confronted with each time I visit the husks that are now my parents, to not get brought down by the our friend's decline and by the changes I face as we lose, in one way or another, those who were close to us.  Yet in deadening one part I deaden others as well and, perhaps as a result of this, my creativity's in hibernation and I haven't had much success in bringing it out. I know the time will come when I return to it again but, for now, I'm letting things go their pace.  

And, for now anyway, I've taken up knitting and listening to a lot of spiritual music...music that feeds the soul.  It's a meditation of sorts, like counting off prayer beads: my hands are busy at work, my mind follows the music, and my emotions stay calmed.  In an odd way, I feel a link to my mother through this, she used to knit a lot some years ago.  

So that's the story.  Or part of it because it's still evolving. If there's still anyone out there checking in from time to time, all the very best to you in the coming year.  May the changes that come to you lead you up instead of down. 

May 14, 2013

Getting What You Wish For...Sort Of

Rituals.  On Sunday, when I could easily have been hanging out at home, sitting with my feet up (figuratively), milking the whole Mother's Day thing and playing queen bee, I went to visit my mother over at the care home instead.  Even though, since my mother has no clue anymore about what day it is ever and was at the time in no state to even register my presence, the visit was meaningless to anyone but me.  Why was I there really?  So I could feel good about myself...about being a good daughter and visiting my mother on Mother's Day and all that?  I think sometimes I cling to something just because "that's the way it's always been" and this time it bit me because I ended up coming home and crying all afternoon.  

Anyway.  While I was there visiting, for reasons too stupid to get into here, I ended up moving some furniture around.  Not that big of a deal really: I am woman, hear me roar!  Except there were people on the furniture when I was moving it and they were adding a slight "dead weight" element I didn't count on.  Also, I keep on forgetting how old I am.  Or, rather, forgetting that my body isn't as young and spry and strong as I still think it is.  Or, maybe, too many hours spent sitting at work is exactly as bad as they say it is.  I try to do what I can, go to the gym at lunch or at least for brisk walks but, clearly, that's not enough because now I'm sitting, feet up (literally) propped up on a mound of pillows with a heating pad at my back. 

Yesterday was my work flex day, my one Monday off in three weeks.  And, although I still spend a good portion of these on appointments and non-art issues, I had firm plans to spend a chunk of yesterday drawing and sketching out my new print.  It didn't quite go like that; my back was too sore for me to sit for more than an hour.  I did a little bit of work, prepped the block, and then had to stop, do some more stretches, and return to my semi-recumbent position. The Universe is having a good laugh maybe.

And so it goes with a lot of things.  Like my prints.  For example, I really wanted to make my next one a landscape. I had an idea driving me and I took some first steps towards it but I couldn't make it work.  I didn't like the sketches I made, they didn't look like the image I was after. I know I'll work it out in time, I just need to keep trying and drawing, but my time is still limited and I really want to be printing again.  Now. Tomorrow. Or if not tomorrow then at least next week. So I was getting a bit twisted up about the thing not going right.

Then, sorting through my mother's paperwork a couple of weeks ago, I came across a card I drew for my dad for Father's Day way back in 1985 (or at least that's the date my mother wrote on the back of the card so it must be right).  It's really barely more than a doodle but, except for it being kind of squished into the space it occupies, I liked it when I first drew it and I like it still.  I actually found a couple of cards I drew for my parents down there and who knows, they may all be prints yet!  After all, I started doing prints in the first place because I wanted to have more than one copy of the cards I drew for people and then gave away.  

So, it only took me 30 years to get here but it looks like the next print won't be that landscape.  I'm ok with that.  If it means I'll actually be working on something, that's good enough for me.  I can still continue with the sketches for the landscape but I won't feel as desperate about making it work.  


Now if only I could just get up and get to it...

April 07, 2013

Waterlily Mandala

 Oh boy!  It really has been nearly three months since my last post.  I didn't plan to let so much time slip by but then no one ever does do they?  It would seem that time flies even when you're not having fun.  

I'm still spending huge slices of my free time downstairs, dealing with the things left behind by my parents.  It's very slow going but we have made progress; we've sorted and taken away boxes and boxes of stuff, we've scrubbed, we've painted, we've moved furniture around and put in some new things.  We now have a room where we can, once again and for the first time in years, play music to volume without disturbing anyone.  Three weeks ago, on Saturday night, we went downstairs and turned down the lights and played music and danced.  Like no one was watching.  For three hours.  It felt like joy.  

But there are still shadows and I still find myself, at times, mired in depression, so weighed down by it that I don't have the energy or desire to do anything other than escape into a book or indulge in some mindless internet surfing. 

And yet I managed to begin and complete a print...the first this year and the first I printed in my new "studio".  I couldn't bring myself to blog about it and only took consolation in knowing I was actually working on something and, truly, working in the new space was wonderful. To be able to just go and print, without having to haul and set everything up and then pack and haul everything away again was marvellous and I found myself down there at all hours whenever I could grab some time: early in the morning with a cup of coffee, mid-afternoon with a cup of tea, late at night with a glass of wine.  I'm still a long way away from having as much time as I'd like to have to spend down in the studio but it's ok. I'll take what I can get.

Here's my latest print:

 
Waterlily Mandala
Reduction Linocut 
7.5" x 9" 
Edition of 9 
 
                                                                                                
   
And here are the different stages it went through:

 





I'd like to say I'll be back soon but ....

 

January 20, 2013

Discovering Magnitude

As I expected, I’m not doing much in the way of my own art these days.  If only to start this year off on the right foot, my new printing studio is set up and ready with press, inking plate, brayers, inks, and drying rack in place and inspirational things on the walls.  All good to go including a good selection of music to serve as backdrop.  Except we’re still struggling with clearing out the other rooms and it’s slow going so no time for me to work on any prints yet.  There’s just so much stuff to sort through, make decisions about, and then deal with.  I did prep a block yesterday, just in case, but I’m resigned to going with the flow of things for now and not stressing. I'm dealing with enough emotional baggage these days already. 

But I want to share a new (yet not new at all) artist I only discovered a couple of weeks ago who's totally inspired me.  Not just on account of his work but because his life story is so richEyvind Earle, American, 1916-2000.  So says my new wall calendar anyway.  

 

I found him at a Calendar Club, of all places, looking for a new art calendar to hang up at my desk at work where it reminds me that my life is more than just booking meetings and balancing spreadsheets.  It gets a bit harder to find something interesting each year because I’ve already done all the masters: Matisse, Chagal, Gustave Baumann, Georgia O’Keefe, the Group of Seven etc., and I don’t like to repeat. 

Plus there are an awful lot of ugly calendars out there too…the majority I’d say.  So the pickin's are slim sometimes.  This year I figure I struck gold.  Not only does this man’s work totally resonate with me but his life story, which I learned about here, really moved me.  His passion for his work and the dedication he brought to it, often against huge odds, are incredible.  I'm not sure I'd have the strength and focus he had under similar circumstances.  

Besides that, if I can trust the information I came across, he only produced his serigraphs when he was in his sixties if not seventies and, to a degree, reinvented himself and his work through them.  That alone would be inspiration enough yet I'm also in awe of how genuinely spiritual he was and how much of that spirituality he brought to his work and to his whole way of living.  He was, as I see it, a giant.

So, although I myself am not creating right now, I'm trying to keep in touch with the creative vibes of others.  Maybe, when I actually do sit down to work on another print, I can channel some of Eyvind Earl’s spirit.  



January 01, 2013

Transformations

It's almost hard to believe 2012 is now something to be referred to as "last year".  And, as always on the first day of each new year, I'm thinking about what I accomplished last year and what my goals are for the next one.  For this year I've determined to build on the same goal I settled on last January.  Transformation.  It appeals to me because the premise of turning lead to gold can come in so many guises really: physical, spiritual, creative, intellectual.  It leaves a lot of room for play. 
 
I've been thinking about this for days now, while R and I spent the few free days of our Christmas break cleaning out sections of my parents' suite.  With them gone, we had to make some choices about what to do with their empty apartment.  We considered renters, or Nora moving in down below in a first step to independence, or even Nora and her BF moving in together since it seems to be imminent.  But, in the end, we decided we've had enough of living with others for now and will turn the downstairs into an extension of our existing space. Our house isn't big by North American standards, 2000 sq ft., and we used to joke that, with the five of us, we had the most people living in the smallest house of all our neighbours. We made it work for close to thirteen years but now we want to see how it might feel to stretch our spacial boundaries. 

In that vein, we'll set up the living room downstairs as a sort of sacred space, a meditation/yoga room, and I'm turning the kitchen downstairs into my printing studio while R will make my father's room into a music room: a new space for his keyboard, numerous accordions, and other sundry music stuff. We hope the transformation of those rooms into spaces to create in will lead, through that creativity, to our own transformation as well. It feels like a good tribute...my parents spent a lot of happy and creative years in that space...so it seems like the right move and offers perhaps a little light at the end of what seemed like a long dark tunnel.

Last August, on the night of our wedding anniversary, we took a walk. We held hands and talked about the year ahead of us, about what might lie ahead for us as a couple and what changes might come. At that time, the idea of my parents being gone was still a part of some indefinite future but the shadows were there already. As we talked, in one of those odd random bits of synchronicity, we both suddenly looked up at the sky.  The day had been stormy and the night sky was still full of dark clouds.  Yet, suddenly in the very moment we glanced up, the clouds parted and the moon shone out, full as a white china plate and bright and strong.  And, because we're the type of people who see messages in things like this, the symbolism for us was: we'll have to get through some darkness in the year ahead of us but the light will come through in the end.   

And there surely has been darkness already; I'm hoping the worst of it is behind us for a little while.  This year's holidays were rough for us, emotionally.  For the first Christmas Eve in probably seventeen years straight my parents weren't with us for the traditional dinner and festivities.  Even before that, since R and I are together, there were only a couple Christmases we didn't spend with them.  This year R and I turned a corner and now we were the parents as Nora and her BF shared the evening with us instead, and as maybe some new traditions were born. It was special in a different way yet there was an emptiness there still.  The next day we ate Christmas dinner with my parents in the home they're in but it was a bleak affair and neither my mother or father really even registered why the three of us were there eating with them.  It took a lot of uplifting music to shatter the darkness we came home enveloped in.

After this came the chore of cleaning up downstairs and, positive future plans for the space or no, the actual task of sorting and discarding a lifetime's worth of collected objects and memories was soul-searing.  In one of life's ironies, the shadows of my parents are everywhere as we work to wipe away most of the traces of their existence so that we can move on.  Yesterday we figured we're maybe twenty percent  of the way to being done but the kitchen, at least, is shiny and clean and ready for the final touches: the move of my press and my printing equipment.  

Of course, all this activity means that although the end goal will be a new creative space, the available time for actually using that space to create in is still a fuzzy thing in the future. It may be a while before I actually get to print anything down there.  I have an idea for a new print and am itching to sit down to it but it needs to wait. Luckily, as a closure to the last year, I did manage to finish the last print.

 Trapped
Reduction Linocut - 8 x 10 inches

Now, I'm ready to move forward and I hope the new year brings much to celebrate.  And I'll take the fact that the world didn't end last month as a good sign.    



December 03, 2012

Trapped?

The idea for my latest print comes from a number of sources.  First, there’s an ornamental stone urn on the grounds of a small baroque castle in Prague where we were twelve years ago on holiday.  I loved the face adorning the urn…my mind is quick to create fairy tales about the stone faces decorating so much of the architecture of European cities…and I imagined all kinds of possibilities for this one, including the idea of a spirit trapped inside somehow


Building from that is the theme of being and/or feeling trapped in my own life: my parents trapped in a reality where they only repeat old habits and routines as their mental competence dwindles; Roland and I feeling trapped, not only by our sense of responsibility to “do the right thing” for my parents (and not being really sure just what that “right thing” is), but by the increasing burden of those responsibilities.  Last, there’s the sense of gloom I’ve been struggling to shake off over the last several weeks.  So not a particularly sunny back story for a print but there it is.

We moved my parents into a care home two weeks ago.  The call from a place with two available beds, a call we were told might take months to come, came on a Thursday morning not two weeks after we submitted the paperwork.  I was given until the next morning to accept but, really, declining the offer wasn’t an option.  Not unless I wanted to have to go through the whole assessment process all over again.  And, given that my father’s latest thing was to try unscrew light bulbs by turning them backwards and breaking them off in their sockets, we couldn’t chance a delay.  So we drove out to the place to have a look around and, having assured ourselves that it was as nice as any such place could ever be, we accepted the placement.  We had until the Monday to move my parents in. 

There’s no possible way, in a life where every day is like Groundhog Day (the movie, not the actual day), to prepare someone for being ripped out of the cocoon they’ve felt safe in for as long as they remember and then planted in a radically alien environment.  And there's no way of not feeling guilt for doing that to them. We did our best to talk to my parents about where they were going and why.  My father, the more rational one of the two, accepted it and then immediately forgot all about it.  My mother just laughed. To make it all worse, although the home had two beds free, those beds weren’t in the same room and my parents had to be separated; my father went into a room with three other men and my mother into a semi-private with another womanWe were promised this was only temporary and that they’d get a room together within a couple of weeks but try to explain that to someone with dementia. 

Yes, it’s been a heart-rending two weeks and hands down the most difficult thing Roland and I’ve had to face in our whole life together.  Nevermind how necessary this move was for both my parents’ and our safety; emotions and logic rarely move in tandem.  Now, with two horrible weeks behind us, the worst is behind us too (I hope).  My father had such a hard time with the transition, and with being separated from my mother, that the care home director put most of her energies into getting them into a room together three days after they moved in.  Things got better after that and now they’ve settled.  

They have a few favourite pieces of their own furniture and bedding, their TV, and my dad’s artwork on the walls of their room to trigger memories of home and they have a team of kind people to care for them.  They’re delighted to see us each time we visit and seem to think they (and Roland and I as well) are all living in the Czech Republic somewhere.  Yesterday the nurses told me my mother laughs all the time and my father is a very interesting and pleasant man.  He’s playing bingo (never in a million years would I have expected that), has had his hair cut and styled into something resembling one of Elton John’s wigs, and allowed the nurse (“he was VERY cooperative”) to shave off his beard.  And really, seeing my parents there only confirms how much they really need to be there.    

Here, at home, my parents have become my phantom limb.  My life was so wrapped up in caring for them for the last couple of years I feel as if their shadows still move around downstairs like they themselves did for the twelve years we've lived in this house together; I still look to see if they're sitting at their kitchen table when I get home from workAnd, at 10 each night I get up to go give my mother her medication before I remember I don't have to do that anymore.  Now the thing Roland and I need to do is to work up the balls to go downstairs and sort through all their things.  But we’re dragging our heels.  It's too hard.   

But I am working on a print.  A dark-themed print to fit my melancholy mood but a print nonetheless.  It's a very simple, only three layers, but that's enough for now. 

The first two colours are here:


Hopefully I'll get a chance to finish it next weekend.  


 

November 12, 2012

A State of Unbeing

The way I see it, most people can be divided into one of two groups: those who love Neil Young and "get" his music and those who don't.  Of all the people I know, the people I genuinely connect with fall into the first group.  It's always been that way. In fact, I seriously doubt Roland and I would be married to each other if either one of us didn't feel as strongly about Neil Young as we do.  Some things mean more than others. 

I don't know what it is about Neil's music that gets inside me so much but it's been a part of my life for so long, and through so many different stages of my life, I can't imagine not knowing it.  We're some years younger so he's not entirely our generation yet so much of his music, odd, raw, and obscure as it can be, has spoken to me more than that of any other artist. I'll never get tired of listening to it even though I've heard the songs  hundreds of times.  We mostly listen to classical music these days, it provides a good backdrop to life in general, but nine out of ten times when I actually put something specific on, it'll be a Neil young album. There's so much to choose from and we have them all.  

Last night we went to see Neil Young, back together on tour with Crazy Horse, live.  He came out on stage...grey, balding, sort of pudgy, troll-like...all of it forgotten as soon as he started playing. Once the music took over nothing else was significant. How fantastic is that in an age when new music is built around and sold by how the musician looks first and how the music sounds only second?  When image is more important than depth of talent?  With Neil it's always been all about the music first.  He's never sold out, he's never let his integrity be compromised by the music industry.  As an artist, he's a huge inspiration for that alone.

Anyway it was a fantastic show.  Here's one off the songs he played...from his new album Psychedelic Pill:


Now, as to printmaking... 

I suppose it's been coming on for a while but a state of mild funk has settled over my creative spirit. Having finished the blossom print, I began on something new  but, in truth, I can't seem to summon up much enthusiasm for working on it. We're at the tail end of a long weekend and we gained that extra hour of time recently, both of which I've used to definite advantage in the past, but this year I've just let the extra time slide by.  I have a bit of an excuse for this weekend: a trip over the border to pick up some things we can neither buy nor get shipped to us here and the Neil Young concert last night.  But that only covers this weekend and not the times I've let slip by when I could have worked on the print and just simply didn't.

It's mostly my parents I think.  My father has recently (and finally) been officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.  Prior to this, while we all knew there were serious issues, he sailed through the mental exams and fell through the cracks.  This left us doing more and more for them both, with less and less time for ourselves, and not being able to do a damn thing about it. But then he went through a particularly bad spell, started having some delusions, and having some real lapses.  On the basis of this we have a diagnosis and a geriatrician's confirmation that my father is no longer competent to look after my mother and himself.  It's become a matter of safety and they are now on a list to get into a care home where they will get more help than we, with our work schedules, can give.

Sounds great right?  Amazingly, my father also thought it sounded ok and told their case worker as much.  In fact, he openly acknowledged it was time for them to go into a home.  That was a few weeks ago.  Now he's forgotten all about being on a waiting list for a care home.  He has no short term memory so no matter how many times we can talk about it, he won't remember.  And the way it works here is that once a couple of spaces open up for them, we'll have 24 hours to accept and another 48 to move them in.  

This means that when the call comes, there'll be some significant upheaval.  I spent a week agonizing over the decision and talking to every one I know about it and I know it's the only decision I can make if I want my parents to be safe.  It doesn't make it easier.  Roland and I are doing a workshop on the Transition to Care put on by the Alzheimer's society; hopefully they'll give some ideas on how to deal with the process once the time comes.  But I'm having a rough time shaking the worry which, in turn, is affecting my printmaking efforts.

Instead of sitting and carving which I find requires a stiller mind than I currently have, I'm distracting myself in random ways, lapsing into bouts of domesticity (making sauerkraut, hunting for and trying out new recipes, and reading. I'm on a WWI kick and flew through two books back to back...incredibly compelling somehow and, compared to the hell those boys were subjected to, my life is a cakewalk. 

And I've done a small bit of work on the next print, but really not much:

  
That's the long and short of my story for this time around.