Even as kids, we were very conscious of fairness. Slices of cake had to be measured for equality. A line was drawn across the back seat of the car to make sure we each had the same amount of space. Christmas gifts had to be practically identical (yet different) to keep one from feeling less loved than another.
As an adult, after experiencing an onslaught of events that certainly didn't seem fair, I began to question the idea of even using fairness as a measurement. Because life isn't fair - not in any way. It's messy and unfair. So perhaps getting hung up on the fairness of anything is counterproductive, because we get stuck on it and can't see anything else.
This week I am trying to focus instead on what goodness I can see, feel, hear, taste. And there is a lot of it. There is an outpouring of love, support and good energy right now. Weaving a web of connection between humans and families and communities. It isn't fair, but it is what we have. And maybe we can make it work for us and for those for whom life has just been desperately unfair.
The next chapter in Nepo's The One Life We're Given describes the process of growing larger (through building careers and our life stories) and then smaller again (as we move past our ambition) "the ways a storm builds only to dissipate." Though we know Inigo isn't quite ready to abandon his goals at this point in the story, we would understand if he decided to pursue farming, perhaps, and give up his vengeance seeking.
The irony of deciding to "jettison any particular sense of ambition", says Nepo, is that when we "outlast our will, we exhaust ourselves and let go of the reins, long enough for the horse we're riding to quicken its pace and carry us on." Yep, another message of letting go.
But it is a little more nuanced than that. Learning when to bend what comes our way and when to let go and just go with it - that's the ticket. Leaning in or turning away. Inhabiting life or consuming it. Finding kinship or dominating. There is a time and place for each, but knowing which is when is our challenge.
I think after a heart-wrenching event like the school shooting, we all instinctively lean in a little more. We listen, we hear, we connect. And Nepo hypothesizes that even the slightest lean can cause a butterfly effect...one tiny word, kindness, bit of compassion rolling gently into another until something amazing happens a thousand years after we're gone. I find hope in that thought. We might not live to see it, but our leaning in will make a difference.
He ends the chapter with an explanation of why our skin takes longer to heal as we age - it thins and holds its markings. And he compares that to our spirits, which are "more permanently touched by the world the longer we're here." I know we're all holding the markings of this week's events. Maybe that's a good thing - lest we forget.
This is the final piece begun in the Nancy Frost Begin workshop earlier this month. Her process is magical! Again, it is hard to look at this and know it is watercolor. :)
It's the day after Valentine's Day and Westley is in the Pit of Despair.
And so are the rest of us here in South Florida, where a mass shooting at a school just took place in our own backyards. The very school where I was scheduled to judge a high school art competition. The very place where friends sent their children to learn each day.
There aren't words to sooth or heal or fix what's happened. There is only a joining of hands, of hearts, of community. Let us call each other sweetheart for this moment. Let us reach out and hold whoever is near, and send love to those who are far away. Let our prayers, our words and our outrage cause a mighty wind of change.
Except I have this dream of a show for the rest of us creative types, Artists on Amtrak Eating Appetizers. We probably wouldn't be as entertaining as Seinfeld's guests, but we might leave a trail of art across America. So I ask you, dear reader, if you were invited on this cross-country adventure, where would travel to leave your artistic stamp on the country, and what appetizers would you wish for?
Life isn't always fair.
And life is messy.
Just when we think we've got it all figured out, we're on the right path, our ducks are in a row, the planets are in alignment...then ZING! POW! WHAP! A monkey wrench flies into the whole thing and you skid to a STOP. And like the grandson in this scene, we are thinking the story is messed up, this isn't how it is supposed to be and so on.
But...and this is a BIG BUT (one "T", you silly reader, not two!), how many times have those monkey wrenches turned into the yellow brick road leading you to something better? I have a theory. If you follow the wrench episodes far enough, at some point there is a silver lining, a golden nugget, a kernel of truth. Or an even better outcome than you previously imagined. Sometimes, when I am stuck in traffic that is making me swear a blue streak and point at people and wag my finger furiously (and oh yes, I point at people. I am one of those annoying drivers), I tell myself a story about how the universe conspired to throw this traffic in my way to save me from certain peril five miles ahead, delaying my arrival until after the [insert calamity here - accident, space ship landing, terrorist bomb, flock of chickens in the road] has passed. And I'll tell you something - as soon as I think that, I feel better about the messy unfairness of the moment (and traffic) I seem to be stuck in. Our imaginations have that kind of power!
Above is the final first piece started in last week's workshop. I absolutely LOVE how this is pure watercolor, yet looks like mixed media and collage! The process takes time and patience, but the result - wow. I will keep working on the second piece and see if it is just as magical.
It's all in the name.
In The Princess Bride, the name Dread Pirate Roberts instills fear. But what about in our lives? There are names of people that instill fear, sure. But there are also names we give things that instill fear within us. For artists, the words "selling" or "marketing" cause knee-buckling and averting of eyes. When we call it something else ("storytelling", for example) the grip of fear loosens and we are free to move about the cabin once more. The word "diet" can be crippling, but "make smart choices" might seem less oppressive. The word "budget" can make many of us head to the mall for retail therapy, but the phrase "saving for a rainy day" might inspire a few pennies set aside here and there.
This painting, named by the incredible audience at the Miami Watercolor Society yesterday, seems quite harmless. "Rosie" does not inspire fear, but instead a sweet approachability and smile. Doing a "demonstration" causes my knees to shake and my heart rate to accelerate. From now on, I think instead I will refer to demonstrations as "painting Rosie."
I suppose I must seem like a very busy person, because there is a question I am asked often: "How do you do everything you do?" But this is where it gets tricky. See, I don't think of myself as doing a lot, really, so the question trips me up a bit. I do, however, make a practice of telling myself there is time and energy enough to do everything I need and want to do. There are a dozen other local creatives I know who do as much or more than I do. And I see them approaching life the same way - just assume you can do it. And, usually, you will.
Like Westley, you can also survive the fire swamp.
Now let's talk about art. I am diligently working away on the large pieces from last week's workshop. But I wanted to show you something else today, so here is yet another piece begun during the workshop and just now finished. This began as a five object contour drawing exercise, then painting new shapes created by the overlapping drawings. Several more layers of paint, some scratching and detail work, then some more paint. I decided to place some words in here as practice for the bit of lettering in one of the large pieces. I like the effect of the neutral ("Palette Gray") and black breaking up the other colors.
If you're in south Florida today and want to come out and play, stop on over to the Miami Watercolor Society meeting today at 2 pm., where I'll be demonstrating a bit of malarkey. Pinecrest Gardens Community Center, 5855 SW 111th St, Pinecrest, FL 33156. (Killian parkway). This is a free event, and all are welcome.
But enough of the smooching. You might be wondering - what the heck is going on with this flamingo?
This fancy gal is heading to a show sponsored by the 6 Hands Collaborative (a dynamic group of artists I truly admire) and is a response to a challenge called The Bag Project. Now I have painted on paper bags as substrate, used them as collage materials and used them to schlep my art supplies around. But never to make fancy clothes for a flamingo.
And yes, I just had to get one more flamingo out of my system.
It was quite revelatory to discover that paper bags, once gesso'd and painted, feel a lot like leather, and can be folded and formed much the same as fabric. So a fancy collar for a fancy girl. Maybe "bag lady" will become the new couture?
Works in progress, each approximately 20" x 20", watercolor on paper.
Buttercup: Who are you?
Dread Pirate Roberts: I'm no one to be trifled with. That is all you ever need know.
from The Princess Bride
Ah Westley! You are a man of confidence. How we love your cool, calm, suave response. I think we should say "I'm no one to be trifled with" to ourselves in the mirror each morning (pirate mask optional). What a way to start the day!
Day two of the Nancy Frost Begin workshop was filled with artists not to be trifled with! Massive talent in that room. Each one completely different from the others. Most of us have not completed a piece yet, as the process is lengthy and can involve up to five layers of paint. However, I did make progress on the piece I posted yesterday (photo right, above) as I began working in the background layers. The darks are delicious and there are a lot of subtleties in the details. I'll work the foreground over the next few days.
On the left, the first wash of color for piece number two, along with a little "dirtying" of the background. This is just the first pass - miles to go on this one.
In addition to these pieces, we worked on a number of five object contour drawings and then painting out new shapes to discover more painting inspiration. Whew! I lot of intense concentration, but a room full of inspired humans afterward.
And now, a few moments with the word made famous by The Princess Bride:
Jen Jovan and her imaJENation