Saturday, January 6, 2018

Consider the Winter Camel

It's 4 degrees with a windchill to approximate -9. It's not that I haven't been outside, but I already feel a bit stir-crazy, knowing we have yet to reach the heart of winter, and not knowing how many brutal cold snaps will come our way. The girl doesn't fully fathom the ferocity of cold this week, so she periodically pulls socks on and rallies for the household: "And now! Let's go to the park!" No one here shall be pushing swings or whipping down slides anytime soon. It's a shame we don't have a nice transparent toddler version of a hamster habitrail lining the upper walls of our little ranch: we could plunk her in, and hear her endlessly scoot around from room to room. She'd burn off some energy and we'd excel  at locating her by scrabbling sound. She would, of course, call for us to join her, which would be physically impossible, but we could wave dramatically and bounce in periodically to assess her toy nesting skills: and leave small presents for her to find in different parts of the trail. Reader, do you feel better? This scenario has already had a calming effect on me. Sad to leave it!

So, here we are in this nasty Winter business, supremely lucky to be protected from its brunt. Possibly feeling in a bit of a slump, but one must remind one's self, January is often Slumptime, what with the royal Family rush of holidays preceding it*, the relative lack of sun, and --  if one ascribed meaning to the artificial construct of calendar time -- and neatly tied one's major tasks up in a bow by year's end -- one may feel especially floaty, without major projects to help order the days. Surely there are new projects to be had, and most definitely there are endless obligatory tasks to be squared off, checked off and otherwise eliminated. My friend told me over lunch that she has been writing out plans to span 2018; and asked what mine were. I fluffed about, though I have been thinking about it. But more on the level of approach versus goal setting.

*which is not meant to disparage family time, natch, only to say the packed nature, and all of the surrounding hubbub leaves one worn out. 

Regardless of where we are this January, it's time to re-up. Here's another fine year for us to invest in ourselves, each other, and our world. A fine time to consider (and buy and look at) Carson Ellis' screen print, which started out as her annual family holiday card last year:

From Carson Ellis' blog
A Handful of Items to Consider, from Someone with Shoddy Credentials:

When compelled to navel gaze,
don't ignore the negative,
but practice holding things lightly.








Make your spaces work for you. When you want to be nestled, make it so. If your space is overly stuffed, but you know you need something cleared out for sanity, give yourself that -- without the clearing process turning into a project in itself.







 Go for what you want. But don't apologize for adjusting down, when you have considered the situation. --> Insert here the video which I could not upload --> my child intently dragging a red rocking moose and random stuffed animal to our cart in IKEA last month. I noted that she had already lobbed 5 stuffed animals into the cart, which exceeded the stuffed animal limit, and that the moose going home with us was highly unlikely. After plaintively explaining that we didn't have a moose, so we had to get the moose, she frowned at it, lobbed a 6th stuffed animal in the cart, and walked away. Sometimes you think a moose is necessary, when really, a camel stuffed animal + a small bear in striped boxers will do the trick. Very few things in this life are truly essential, and focusing on those non-essentials could actually be tripping you up. Maybe what you want/need looks a little different than it did a few years ago, or last year. Maybe it's packaged differently. Some may call you fickle. That's okay: life is fickle. 

When invited to be in a parade, go for it! Special events and times come bundled with hassle. Enjoy the glitter and the exhaustion.








 

Whatever you're undertaking, allow yourself to be at your current level. One refreshing toddler trait is their frequent belief that they're doing GREAT at whatever is at hand. Obviously this reflects our enthusiastic encouragement - but this, too allows them to forge ahead -- and develop some real skills. Recent declarations from our shortest family member include: "I'm great at drawing!" "I'm a very good Mommy" (when she's not tossing her baby doll across the room), "I AM AN ADULT" "I'm great at jumping!" "I'm a VERY fast runner!" It's patently obvious that toddlers are works in progress, but still most people who describe adults as such are seen as a bit laaaaaaa, if not annoying. Yes, the growth rate is drastically reduced, but otherwise it still holds...

I don't need IKEA kitty drapes. but I want them.
<-- Take time to appreciate simplicity and repetition. It's easiest to be blown away by detailed, finely honed skill -- but there is wisdom and appeal to bold, pared down visuals.

Allow space for the magical. Which is not permission to let magical thinking hold sway... Also remember that sometimes theories -- including your own -- are simply that. Be open to revision.

Happy belated New Year, All! Warmest wishes during the coldest time of the year...







Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Give me a Bottle and the Open Road

The Little One has definitely turned a corner. One of a million, I am told. Possibly we thought we had already arrived at the "terrible twos" (/some say three is the beast//others say, there IS no such thing! to any of it -- which only says to me that No-Such-Things got off super-easy and are now irritatingly free to blissfully dismiss all the developmental oppositionality that occurs to the rest of us). For about six months, she has been crying princess-and-the-pea style numerous times a day, which is met with varying levels of patience by the taller people in the house. So we're good with that, or at least pretty good most of the time. It's possible that questions like, "Can we NOT cry about EVERYTHING?" may have escaped lips. Maybe this morning, maybe not.

Two days ago, amidst red-faced wailing about having three packs of markers versus two packs of markers in her reach, she frantically dashed all reachable markers to the floor, before attempting to launch herself across the dining room table at me, ALL while bellowing at me. The bellowing didn't work out so well, as she was heartily out of breath; the words were incomprehensible. Still, she bellowed and glared. It took a little while for her to recover from this. The force of it was daunting; and became more so, when the intensity level was repeated later on in the day. Rick and I were sitting on the kitchen floor, trying to play a nice ball of catch between the three of us; this was foiled after she decided all balls must be covered with blankets and absconded with. We kept snagging balls from the corners of the room and at least threw back and forth to each other; but she seized that one from us as well, blanketed it and ran away. I forget what caused the latter-day crying, but it presented as a running wail. She was mostly naked, scream-crying and running circles between rooms. In the doorway, she added a volley of foot-stomping and eyed us, with our hopeful outstretched arms. We were like magnets. She felt pulled toward us, but would yank herself away: "No! No! NOOOOoooooooooooo" It was almost laughable, but for the fact that she was clearly having a hard time. And sharing the exhaustion.

Yesterday, she added hate into the mix. I had never heard her say she hated anything before. And this was clearly experimental. Hate as confidential, hate with a smile. "I hate applecots," she announced, though this only seemed to apply to apricots cooked in oatmeal. "I hate cheese," she said later. The absurdity of this statement was only surpassed by "I hate bread," which I didn't bother to acknowledge. At the end of the day, she observed, "I hate toothpaste," after sucking it off the toothbrush, as she usually does.* While the protest/loud processing behavior is pretty exhausting for all involved, it *is* interesting to actually be able to see behaviors emerge, and to see someone clearly trying on different ways of being. Obviously, we're all performing our public selves -- and even aspects of our private selves -- but how often is it the case that we actively need to incorporate brand new ways of self expression or being? Hey Guys, today I started hating stuff! Well, not really hating them. But I said I hated them. It's a little glitchy... 

Her sole daytime nap is usually more of a downtime/quiet time. Which is usually more of a singing time, mixed in with some shouting. But lately if I drive her more than ten minutes in the afternoon, she's out like a light-- usually a few minutes away from our destination. So today I decided on the drive nap. One of the few remaining beautiful days, I have a new car that's actually fun to drive, we're golden! I shifted from a podcast to some chill music, the backseat was pleasantly quiet, and I had the pleasure of drifting off with my thoughts.

From the backseat: "...Sooooooo...HOW was your YOGA??"

This question was delivered in exactly the tone of an awkward exchange between two barely known acquaintances, who had not anticipated speaking to one another. One person has decided they, at least, will break the silence.

"It was great, honey, thanks. How was your storytime?" She liked it and noted a handful of standouts from the library. She started flipping through her Curious George early reader (which is not to say she can read~). Loudly: "Theeeee End!"

"Oh you're all done, then? We can look at that more later after we get back home."

Flip, flip, flip... "Theeeeee End." I remain silent, internally cursing myself that even if she stayed awake at home, I could have  been doing something right now. At least one of us craved downtime. "THE. END."

Me: "..."

Daughter: "You didn't say! You SAY."

I had clearly ignored the social contract. "It's quiet time, honey. Time to rest and relax, so I'm not going to talk more ~"

"It's NOT quiet time, I have this lovely BOOK TO READ and I am not rest and relaxing. SO it's NOT quiet time." So obviously, there was no sleep involved.

But NO! There was! But only after an empty milk bottle was lobbed into the front passenger seat, some fitful crying. But then, silence, or rather, better than silence: a light babyfied snore. So there I was, able to just be with myself, driving along country roads, past rock quarries and church signs, past crossing signs limited to deer and tractors; rolling through Norvell and Napoleon to a soundtrack of old Breeders songs and ambient electronica. What more did I know at the end of the day than at its beginning? Not much, but thankful for mobility, for witnessing developing personhood, and thankful thankful thankful for true respite.

*Our common and ineffectual remonstrance: "ToothBRUSHING not toothSUCKING!"

Friday, December 1, 2017

Focus Not Upon the Spider

Blah, blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. Let blah equal self-recrimination and despair over infrequent posting and yadda equal defensive justification via anecdotes of normal levels of chaos. That was easier than I thought!

Breathe in, breathe out. During a punishing* Vinyasa class this morning, I perspired, fumbled a bit, and recovered. A tiny spider picked its way across the wooden, sunlit floor between yoga mats. I forgot it almost instantly, but moments later a nearby woman shrieked and collapsed mid-contortion. Hopefully she didn't pull anything, because collapsing at those moments is especially dicey. Which would be why I have only tried home yoga twice in the presence of toddler daughter, who felt compelled to climb me during downward dog; launch herself onto my back any time I looked somewhat table like; and slither herself beneath me moments before I had planned to lower myself to the mat. Back at class, the shriek brought matters to a halt. I was happy for the disruption, as our fabulous and challenging teacher had just proposed something which made me guffaw. In case you're a super yogi, I laugh at yoga when the thing proposed is barely comprehensible, much less attemptable**, by myself anyway. The proposal involved fire breathing while doing a plank, but also hopping straight up from one's hands and feet, in the plank stance, SPROING! Huff-huff-huff-huff! SPROING! I huffed, but failed to sproing; and quickly collapsed. A whimper/whine came from the front right corner of the class, over the idea that maybe the teacher had offed an insect.

"Relaxxxxx," soothed the teacher, exiting the room, with her hands cupped together. She returned: "Now it's survival of the fittest. Though the spider will probably die from the cold." Why did that cause me to laugh? I guess I'm working on compassion, wish to be more openhearted; but there's still a part of me which derides what I perceive to be "soft-hearted." Is this derision/dismissal an indication of how far I have to go? Or is it just an acknowledgement that there will always be boundaries between what one finds acceptable and not ? Look out! This is what happens, when I have a few hours away from my child, and I can swim about my head.***

Rick and girlchild are home now -- little feet thud above me. Short-lived protest crying sinks through the floorboards. I'm hiding in the basement, which I hope to do more frequently, as it gets colder. It only seems appropriate. I'm sitting at the tool bench, next to the furnace, with printmaking cards in various stages, all about me. My back is kinked up in weird ways; I slouch and straighten like a loopy cartoon character at odds with his barstool. The muscle twitches are due to a.) hanging the picture book exhibit at the library yesterday, b.) raking, mostly for toddler amusement and c.) aforementioned yoga class. 

from @aadlgram
But back to A! All 46 pieces in "No Cake is Safe" are now on display in the multipurpose room of the Ann Arbor downtown library. Woohoo! It was my first time hanging any show and boy-howdy was I grateful for the experienced help from Val Mann****. It has been interesting to see how the exhibit feels in its different venues. At the University of Michigan hospital, it felt expansive, in its open atrium, glass ceilinged space. At the Dexter Library it meandered along halls. Here, it's almost cozy. Self-contained. It feels quite nice to be in the space. I look forward to returning there for some quiet time. So far, manuscript submission and agent searching for picture book publication has been full of waiting and uncertainty. But here is this thing I have made, and I can sit and be with it. Lovely! And, as always, it's great to be part of a larger exhibiting program -- to have the privilege of seeing what other artists are exploring. So many things to be happy about.

ALSO at the downtown library, I'm super excited to be selling prints and cards at next Saturday's Tiny Expo. SO, come visit me, if you like what you see, go one floor down and swing by the Cakeasaurus exhibit. Two birds, one stone. Ayyyand see all of the other great vendors and make something cool in the Secret Lab, whaaaat. So really, three birds. 

BUT no... it winds up being FOUR birds, one stone. As Tiny Expo is part of the fabulous Winter Art Tour. So, get or print your passport, get it stamped at 4 venues Dec. 8-10 and maybe win something fabulous! Shop local, support creativity, have fun.

Hope to see you next Saturday! Here's a smattering of what will be at my table:




Happy December, All.

* nay, cleansing and fulfilling.
**what is impossible today may be fully realizable tomorrow! 
***I'm not a very good swimmer. But I love being in the water. 
****who probably could have hung it all, blindfolded, with one hand tied behind her back.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Fall Arrives. More Rain Indoors and Out.

Time is becoming difficult to fathom. It feels like this lately, though it may just be today. I think it's the environs. Possibly limited to this house. For one, it has rained inside about five times in the past ten minutes.

My ambitions are limited: I'm just trying to do some dishes, which doesn't seem like too much to ask.*  "It's raining inside!!" my 2 1/2 year old sings out and hoists up the umbrella. Mostly hoists. It covers her upper body and careens drunkenly.

"We need...our rain boots," says the umbrella and I abandon the sink in favor of the closet and some boots. "You need to put your <sing-song> raiiiin boots onnnnn </end sing-song >" says the umbrella, before the girl re-emerges. "Here," she says, "I will help you. Put your foot in there" I obey and am sufficiently protected.

Next come the rain coats, which I veto and she sighs, before I return to the sink and lo and behold, the wily below-roof clouds have dried up and it has stopped raining. After commanding me to take my rain boots off, she takes matters into her own hands and wraps herself around one of my legs, aggressively tugging. This pretty much wins the award for least efficient boot removal, apart from being an amusing balance test. I volunteer to take them off and she agrees with an air of long-suffering ("thank you for lightening my burden...after all.this. time...") 

She then flounces off to announce from the other side of the kitchen: "It's raining inside again!" I dive to share the shelter of her umbrella, while she giggles. "I'm taking CARE of you," she intones, before jabbing me in the eye. She is relatively indifferent to this turn of events, though I'm slightly bitter, as I hadn't really been wet to begin with; "Oh! My car windows are slightly open!" She abandons me to do something fiddly with the nearby dining room chair, which also magically closes her car windows. "Ok, they're closed now."

Note: This excessively quick weather turn-around is also repeated for the cruel and fake napping game, in which this same toddler will cajole//bully her parents into getting snuggly under their covers; will turn off the lights only to almost immediately declare it's time to wake up and precariously stepping on pillows to either side of our heads** so she can turn on the A.) two dimmish wall sconces and the B.) very bright overhead light.***

*And really, what a sad thing to ask, if one can muster the energy to ask a question.
** "<sing-song> I'll be carrrrreeeeeful! </sing-song>" less than accurate 
*** gleefully delivered, "Is this too *BRIGHT*?" Our affirmative answers never lead to her turning it off again.

Friday, July 21, 2017

A Trio of Makers (Ann Arbor Art Fair)

In years past I was all about the Ann Arbor Art Fair, started thinking about it the month prior, researched some of the upcoming artists, planned out routes to maximize work lunch hours and exhausted evening hours; took pics, googled and wrote and felt compelled to publish a post for whosoever may care to read. Then it shifted to childcare hours and who and when and not really time to process later, but at least not sandwiching the sun-hammered art walks between office hours. This time, a few days ago, I glanced online before giving up -- other more pressing research items weighed in -- new car, travel, toddler tendencies and how to handle. This time around: I'll find what I can find.

It was only as I marched on Liberty, having drained my pricey Avalon latte, striding between Holy Mary, Mother of God and the Mars Society booths in nonprofit row, that I realized how happy I was. Excited, joyful, freed up! No matter how jaded I become, no matter the various life pressures, this kind of thing always feels like a reward, an unwieldy present to be opened. There's always treasure, hiding below the layers of wine slushies, lawn ornaments and neon-colored Warholalikes. You may maintain your ideas of where the best art is and dismiss all other regions (the fair is actually four fairs glommed together), but for treasure hunting, one must be open and far-reaching. Far-walking.

And here I was, walking along to meet Compatriot (who I haven't mentioned in forever, but who is the perfect Art Fair fellow attendee -- we travel well, we overhear well, we investigate and muse). And here, suddenly, was an old friend from a former life, exclaiming in my path! She can't understand people who hate this*, she arrived at 7 AM**, parked just like that, dwelled over an hour long breakfast at Afternoon Delight and now at 11, she felt done for the day. We were pleased with ourselves and exchanged brief chatter about unknown children (my toddler, her grandchild, about the same age), and happily parted ways. Mildly discombobulating, but a fine start to (my experience of) the fair, nevertheless.

Highlights:

Tina Leto (booth #A152): Gorgeous black and white plant photography. Simple and stunning. Savvy lower price points -- I mean way lower -- am tempted by her wee $25 prints, which one could easily center in a pre-made shadow box or floating frame; small sleek tin of 20 (? maybe) shots together at $150. The subtitle of her photography business card lists Alley, Garden, Prairie, which appeals to me somehow. They all have equal footing, these plants, regardless of categorization. Again: search for the treasure, right? We talked toddlers -- she affectionately described her granddaughter as "a demon child" -- and it's obvious, Leto's a pistol. I imagine she'd be a fun drinking companion. She most definitely has stories.

Back home, it was interesting to see a wealth of journalistic photography on her website -- Romania, small town America, portraiture. All this documentation of "moments in time" exist in stark contrast to the timeless, sleek visuals of her plant photography. On Day Two, I asked her how about the shift. She raised her eyebrows, half-shrugged: "Ehhh? What happened, I turned 50. I don't know." Also on day two, the fair jurors came around with a foam-core sign about her winning an Excellence Award. She waved it at the artist next door, "See? I wasn't lying." She returns inside the booth: "I exclaimed a lot when I heard they were awarding me, everyone around here probably heard it." 

Amanda Outcalt (/Out of Print) (booth #A260): 2D, mixed media with a strong emphasis on intaglio, drawing, painting. Self portraits, circus elephants, fish hooks, and polka-dotted sheep. Magical realism, no unicorns. Website here plus rich instagram.












"Putting Out Fires"
She also teaches art to kids K-5, so she often feels like she's handling mini crises -- "Everything gets so big for them, like from the outside you think it's something that doesn't matter much, but they have a huge reaction, so that's the title (at right). You just try to help them to a better place and sometimes something good comes out of it, that's why you have the balloons."

Outcalt, a first timer to the show, also won an Excellence award.

Emily Howard, a/k/a The Diggingest Girl (booth B4003): Talented and groovy, Howard balanced visitor chatter with restocking, and carving a Frida Kahlo linocut. She is an art school graduate with not one-but-two masters! (I keed, I keed --> a sensible pairing of MFA and arts education), who came into printmaking relatively late in her arts schooling. She took a class in 2006, liked it; and dove into printmaking on a more professional level in 2009. She said she always knew she wanted to do the art fair circuit, which I had every intention of asking about, because it seems so incredibly difficult to me, but different strokes. Why did she opt for prints over other media? "Practical reasons, actually. I love painting and sculpture, but those are hard to lug around; and I want to create beautiful things for people, that more people can afford, so that's prints." To me, that's 500 point answer**** 
"Gwendolyn,"

I like how "Gwendolyn" calls up Love & Rockets characters and Ghost World. I'm also a sucker for a nice herringbone pattern. Who's Gwendolyn?












 


Extra Credit
In my alternate, wealthy life, I'd send my personal shopper to Booth B2023 to fetch glittering, mesmerizing mosaics from the Canadian transplant with the best name your mouth has spoken in a long time. Check out Giampietro Filippetti's work here. If you aren't going to the art fair, the photos are probably the best you'll see, though they fall woefully short, since you can not walk back and forth, back and forth, to watch the tiles glitter in the light. Just shy of magical.

*I can, I used to work retail in its midst.
**the fair opens at 10AM
***Not redeemable for cash, not translateable to other real-world usage. But you know, gold star.

Monday, April 17, 2017

...And Many Happy Returns!

Not an elephant.
Hey-ho, my baby girl turned two years old last Saturday! {one month ago...and this is only getting posted, with thanks to PBS and my morning break called "Sesame Street."} Grand visions from months prior of a party -- appealing to both children and adults, possessing just enough DIY touches to give it a special feel, without sucking up too much time -- those wafty visions fluttered away, while everyday life trundled along. Perhaps a party for 3 year old? Or, maybe-just-maybe we'll host gatherings in the coming year? I would like to believe this would be so. Our track record sets a low bar, but at least we are a couple who goes *out* to do things. We confess we adore our leather sofa, but we aren't simply creating sofa craters.

In the week and half leading up to the birthday, I felt crummy and crummier. I downshifted plans to: An elephant crown! Special birthday sour cream cookies with jam. And balloons! And family skyping and visits. That'll do, right? It did, it most certainly did. Little girl was fascinated with the cookie rolling process, loved all the treats and attention.

My health rallied, I bustled around like most fools who have come off a fever and now think they're superstars; which resulted in a lost voice by the evening and a confused daughter. Why was I trying to whisper songs? "No. No, LOUDER, like THIS"  Hmm, no, afraid not.
Also not an elephant. Repurposed block prints.
Making short work of the paper measuring tape
"Oooo, My TWOWN," she says. We don't do hard C's  yet.

In her party dress, barrettes intact


"Special Birthday Cookies" vs. dried apple rings, which she thinks are normal cookies
{Not my fault! She came to this conclusion on her own: "Tooties! My abbel tooties!" ...yeah, sure. Have at it! Trying to delay her transformation into a sugar fiend.}


tugging on Grandpa's ear
Crown denuded of flowers, crash imminent
Crash accomplished, pajamas await

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fun Field Trips: the Hospital Edition


The world premiere exhibit of my Cakeasaurus Picture Book Project happened this week, in my happy hometown of Ann Arbor, MI. Sound the trumpets, unroll the red carpets, get ready to sip wine and munch sweet, flaky niblets! Alas, no opening reception, since it's at a hospital, but Rick delayed his cross-country travel by a day to see it, and we had an unlikely restaurant + hospital date. Not the first such date, I recall now -- in general, I do not recommend it.

This, however, was quite satisfying. The photos I took don't really capture the scope of "Cakeasaurus: Scenes from a Picture Book." It's one thing to have half-done sketches taped up on the dining room wall to spur one on; to have prints and sketches occupying a basement wall in order to work through a narrative -- but how different to see the story laid out, in public, across ten display panels, all properly framed, along with extra frippery and signage nonsense! 

Five display panels in back, cleverly paired with Janet Kelman's glass art
The cruelty of non-edible confections

Digital prints and original block prints share the wall
At the penultimate panel, but is it this story's end?
"One Fateful Night" print (L) vs. double page picture book layout
Possibly dingy at night, but wonderfully bright during the day
The gallery, one of several throughout the University of Michigan Hospital, was deserted in the evening. Metal gates were locked to clinic floors. Janitors wheeled carts of cleaning supplies around the perimeter. Medical staff coming off shift bade each other goodbye; an older couple wandered past from the nearest parking structure. The quiet suited our visit.





Special three panel version of "Cakeasaurus Left Happy for Another Day"...
...Which led to failed attempts at recreating Cakeasaurus' triumphal strut. I may have been on a heavy prescription at the time. Still, a fairly accurate depiction of how it felt to see the exhibit up!





Here's hoping that adults and children who must frequent the hospital for any extended time will chance upon the exhibit, dive into the story, and be distracted from the heavier side of life.

We are fortunate to have top-notch hospitals in our community -- and that more hospitals have programs like "Gifts of Art," which connect art with healing and vitality. Check out their Facebook page and  current gallery schedule here.