Friday, January 28, 2011

Maui Madness

At his annual physical yesterday the neighborhood vet who is almost as ancient as I, by the way, announced that Kodi is not only fit (except for his balding tail) but that his heart and weight are perfect, and that in people years he is now 80. “That makes us the same”, I chortled. “He’s still doing one hour walks twice a week with the dog walker” I reported, “he’s wild with joy at the prospect of each hike and usually he’s not gimpy afterwards”.

Driving the two miles home in Lee’s ’89 pickup (which must be nearing 80 in Toyota years) I smiled at the irony. Both dog and truck are in such fine fettle, full of pep, and here am I struggling to pull my pants over my hips, keep up with therapy exercises for my hurting shoulder, and fretting about my atrial fib. Must be my attitude needs adjustment!

On with the story. I started the painting above in Maui on Thanksgiving day, 2009, my ninth trip, I believe, to paradise, but my first trip there alone. This week I ‘m motivated to get both the painting and the memory out of my psyche. I tried to finish it last Tuesday, without success, by smearing matte medium over parts of it and collaging tissue paper over some of the leaves, for any painter can see I left no whites! There is no center of interest. It’s a jumble of ununified color which mimics my mood when first composed. I call the painting Maui Madness, but other names could be Botanical Bombardment or Makawao Hysteria. Instead of plein aire, I composed it in my tiny apartment gazing out at an unhospitable and unkempt tropical garden. As my head filled with pollen and chemicals (it turned out the building had been tented to kill the vermin just before I arrived) I grew more sick and angry and added more and more layers of granulating paint.

Sight unseen (except for the internet) I had rented a little apartment for ten days, upcountry. In earlier decades I always wanted to live in the islands in retirement, a fantasy I abandoned in my sixties, finally realizing that the beauty of nature there would always call me but that the culture was not a fit for me for steady living. Still, I looked forward to painting and soaking up sun as well as delighting in spending time with loved ones who now call Maui home.

Things went downhill almost immediately, The rental was a disaster. My allergies ended me in the ER after a few days. The trip was a bust. Thus started a year of one health challenge after another, none critical but most draining and annoying.

In 2011 I’m trying to make happier choices. For instance, I’m not going to see the film Black Swan, even though I’m drawn to the acting. Who needs more dark in their life? Certainly not Bonnie or Kodi, who finds nirvana in the simplicity of a heaping tablespoon of peanut butter. Surely its time for a different viewpoint and a happier outlook, leaving lots of empty spaces for the sun to shine through.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Whimsy Or Not

Yesterday afternoon, by plan, I experimented with collage painting under the generous tutorage of my friend and neighbor Nancy Overton. We’ve become friends since Nancy and Chuck, both artists, live nearby and work out at the gym with me. As you, the reader, can intuit, I’m working at being more playful in art and in life. Did I say work out and working at? Now there’s an oxymoron. But of late “working at” is the only path I’ve been able to figure out. Playing just gets lost in the daily pattern of boring responsibilities which seem to consume all my energies. I’m recalling now that I got all A’s when I was a Recreation Minor in undergrad school and enthused at making PLAYING my life’s work. That was only sixty years ago, I mutter to myself. Where oh where has my enthusiasm gone?

Nancy exudes playfulness. She has many talents both as a writer and an artist. In addition she’s a dedicated garage sale shopper, an activity that leaves me blank but gives her joy as well as treasures. She walks Lake Merritt with enthusiasm three times a week. I marvel how she stays so upbeat.

What’s most delightful to me about being with Nancy is her laughter. It’s not a feminine giggle nor is it stifled by clipping short her breath, as many women are programmed to do. In volume it’s neither boisterous nor gentle, but with or without my new hearing aids, just right. It’s musical and vigorous and seems to come from her toes, gaining momentum as it travels upwards, and then really filling all the empty spaces in the room. I’ve noticed when she is in a group that it is contagious. I’m not sure how she achieves it, or even if it is partly genetic, but I treasure being around it.

As we experimented with collage we shared ideas and techniques. It was messy and fun. Truth be told I felt slightly cautious. Without inhibitions Nancy puts almost anything in her collages including reconstituted seaweed which she gathers at Stinson Beach. I came home with blue and orange fingers. I’m hoping Nancy’s confidence and non-judgemental attitude will be catching. Maybe so, maybe not. As in most things, more will be revealed.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Shall We Play?

Previously I shared that one of my goals in art (and life) was to be more playful in 2011. Easier said than…, as the expression goes. I find its not exactly something I can will myself to do, for if will were the source I would have accomplished it a while ago. It seems I am not short on will, which is synonymous for stubbornness in my book. On the other hand, I am short on patience. Spontaneity seems like the open door to the process. Kittens, puppies and little kids have no trouble being playful. But me? I think I was never that way even at two. Somehow I got shorted on the playful gene. It was somewhat easier when Lee was alive. Without a loved one to grin and celebrate one’s uninhibited behavior the effort seems to lack motivation.

Once, about forty years ago, at a fund-raiser for JFK University, I bought a ticket to have face painting. What possessed me! First the artist covered my whole face with white paint. Then she drew exotic designs on both eyes and cheeks. Then she added symbols and cerulean color around the eyes, The result was gorgeous and transforming. I felt silly, delighted, and tickled. It was me but not me. Yearning to share my delight, I was annoyed to discover all my friends had gone home. Rats! This transformation had to be shared. So as I drove home in my little VW bug I slowed down passing every house of friends. To my dismay everyone’s lights were out already.

Even when I got home I found Lee asleep. But this was too good not to share. So with a gleeful shout and much posturing I switched on the overhead bedroom lights all the while dancing around the footboard. Lee screamed then laughed and laughed.

It was hard to finally go to bed, and I ended up not removing any of the face painting and tried to sleep on my back without disturbing the facial art. Such a fun memory.

I adore playful people. Who doesn’t? Being with them is such fun.

So this week with my water-color buddies I took a three day painting class, determined to be uninhibited. Despite my intentionality it wasn’t until the third day I began to feel playful. Perhaps playfulness is a left-brained thing and it takes that long for my factually stuffed brain to make the transition or to bypass performance expectations?

I surely invite your ideas on how to accomplish this. The year is still young so I have plenty of time to experiment.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

We Can Do It

Last week Geraldine Doyle the slender, muscled inspiration for the WW2 recruitment poster We Can Do It died. I remember the poster of course but being an eighth grader it didn’t seem to apply to me. In Seattle where I lived there was a cry for kids to volunteer in the summer to pick vegetables. No doubt the Japanese farmers were all in internment camps. At my friend Sue’s urging I accompanied her reluctantly on a big bus to the fields near Renton to pick beans. I remember being kind of scared and totally inept. After one day of weighing in my yield they directed that I not return. How embarrassing, but what a relief! I tried to help the war effort in other ways like collecting cans and old nylons, planting a vegetable garden and trying to sell war bonds. At things athletic and manual dexterity I was a motor moron. Still am. Meanwhile, down in California, Lee’s life was taking a very different turn.

What was unique about being a senior at Albany High, class of 43, was that if you were a boy approaching 18 almost any branch of the service would scramble for you. Not only blackout curtains and ration stamps appeared, but boys and girls alike steered in new directions. At the end of their junior year many boys quit to join the ranks and sadly never returned to graduate. If you were a girl you were recruited to work at the booming Richmond Ship Yards in jobs never before considered fit for women. Of course Lee was one of those girls who volunteered, her brother already serving overseas in the Navy. It seems a school bus would take them after half a day of classes to the shipyards to learn riveting and other skills, and they would work an 8 hour shift before returning to Albany High.

Since Lee was 31 when I met her, I never witnessed such activity. She rarely spoke of her jobs in the war effort (and she had many) thinking it was such a little thing. Like Geraldine Doyle she was slender and strong and such a natural athlete so I’m sure she loved it. Except for being addicted to baseball, she had shadowed her Dad in his workshop all her life and she could do almost anything manually with her hands. That is, except cook and sew, which her mother had given up trying to teach her. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine it was for Lee her first experience of being valued as a woman of worth. Recently I passed on to a friend Lee’s tee shirt which sported the logo Women In The Trades. Like her work at the shipyards, it was a source of quiet pride.

Almost every morning as I pass Skyline High on my way to shopping or the gym I reflect on the kids unloading from the cars and buses. Much of the time they look bored, distracted and insecure. Not all, but many. Small groups form on the corners and if I have the car windows open I can usually smell pot even though a police car is parked at the gate. It saddens me. How will they ever find a sense of self worth?

Several years ago when the memorial to Rosie the Riveter opened in Richmond our friend Marianne arranged to have us visit. Lee was already quite frail but politely expressed interest. I was fascinated but Lee somehow thought it was still no big deal. The exhibit is wonderful. It is said that the women there turned out one battleship a week. Now in my book that’s a very big deal!