Thursday, February 26, 2009

Labor or Love?

Did I mention that painting is hard work? Learning to paint is like learning another language. Most people don't learn a new language overnight; it takes struggle and practice and lots of repetition. And if you ever think you've reached a level of competence but fail to use that newly acquired skill, it'll fall away quicker than you ever thought possible. You don't want to lose your fluency.

Each painting presents new challenges and opportunities for problem solving. I've been painting and repainting this one painting for a year. I almost scrapped it for the second time to start over but I decided to just put it aside for awhile and keep on struggling to get better and when I get better I'll return to it and figure it out.

When you look at the price of an original piece of art, you're not seeing the sum of an hourly rate but the accumulation of years of work. No amount of hard work is going to make some pieces become "art" and conversely, "art" is never achieved without a great deal of perspiration and perseverance. I will leave for another day the rant about "what is 'art'." For today's purposes, "'art' is work," albeit a labor of love.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Gospel Transformation

How is my community different because I am in it? How differently do I perceive the world because of the reality of the Gospel? How does this apply to my every day life?

Some days life hurts so much that it's not enough to just read the Gospel.

I am starving.
I need to eat it, consume it, be consumed by it.

I am dirty.
I need to bathe in it, plunge into, underneath it.

I am thirsty.
I need to drink deep draughts of it.

Did you ever drink so long it's as if the water was replacing your need for air? That kind of thirst... great gasping gulps.

The Gospel applied to everything: my work, my sleep, my eating and drinking, thinking, breathing, loving, caring, hurting. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.... out of this abundance given to me, I am able to, need to, constrained to give.

It should make a difference. It should make all the difference in the world.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Eyes Have It

The radio commercial said, "If, as they say, 'the eyes are the window to the soul', then your windows are the soul of your house!" I thought about that for a moment, then cried, "NO!!!! The saying should follow, 'then your windows are the eyes of your house.'" Obviously, the commercial was trying to sell me new windows. (Well, I'll have to write a letter about that!)

Jesus said, "If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness."

Our house has 56 windows. Most of them are original "six over one," double hung windows. Some of the double hungs are now "singles" (the cotton rope frayed and broken) which makes for not only a difficult time raising but also a noisy one. It's makes a characteristic yelping, like the screech of pain from your dog when you accidentally step on her hind foot. Some of the glass is wavy. All of them are leaky and inefficient. Never at any time have we had all of them clean at once. A few of them have never been cleaned from the outside (the ones on the back, three floors above the ground.) Forget hiring someone to do it. No professional will clean for less than $50 per window (not in our part of the world. anyway.) You can't hire some well intentioned, uninsured handy man to climb a 40 ft. ladder to reach the back of the house. We should replace them with modern, energy efficient ones, but to the tune of about $10,000, that's not going to happen any time soon.

So, the eyes of my house are dim. However, it's a soft light, not harsh or glaring. It adds to the various charms of our 114 year old home. You either love these old houses or you hate them. We love this one.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Bags of Wind

The plastic bag is still tangled in the branches of the plum tree outside the kitchen window. It just flaps all day long, stuck on a bare, winter twig. A bit of man-made detritus skewered on a dead tree tip. It reminds me of the film shown at the art center last year. It consisted solely of a similar bag stuck in a similar tree top. Nothing happened. It just flapped in the wind endlessly, the film looping continuously. No beginning or ending. Futile. Barren. Ugly.

My bag will never be able to untangle itself. I'll have to get the ladder and clip it off. It affronts my sensibilities. I can't leave it there until it dries and tatters and eventually becomes concealed by the leaves.

Makes me wonder why I care. "What does it matter?" Is this a metaphor for the ugliness that has a tangle-hold on the world, that will never free itself, but must be cut out? Who defines what is beautiful or ugly? Or does it just offend my sense of orderliness and control over my immediate environment?

Maybe it is just my way of trying to bring order into the chaos of the cosmos, something I strive to do everyday with my art. I don't think bags blowing in the wind is art, nor do I think bags of wind can define what is art. (Yes, I do mean the double entendre.)

I'll get out there pretty soon and cut it down.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Universe in my Cup

I put my first, fragrant cup of coffee on the table and pour in the half and half, watching the sensuous swirls of cream lazily fall to the bottom of the cup then rise in mushrooming clouds until the coffee is almost completely creamy. People say you should put your cream in the bottom of the cup and then it will be stirred as you pour the coffee over it. Nonsense. And miss this little miracle? I stretch my legs out in front of me on the sofa, leaving room for Gromit to climb up beside me. He won't stay long; he isn't much of a cuddler these days. Pogo barely waits until I'm settled to bring me her squeaky ball for a few minutes of fetch. She squishes the ball feverishly and then pokes it in the hole between me and sofa arm. I toss it to her a few times. Gromit indignantly leaves the sofa, vacating a space for Pogo. She jumps over my legs and flops down as only she can (having only three feet makes her clumsy in such a tight space.) I savor the hot, strong coffee. It will never tastes as good as these first few sips. I adjust the pillows and grab my Bible, inhaling deeply. My thoughts are flying around my head like fluttering moths. I close my eyes, trying to settle down. I formulate a brief prayer, knowing that if I linger, the prayer will inevitably end in me mentally taking out the trash or defending my opinions, such is my undisciplined mind. I look out the window at the bare branches of the red maple, then through the twiggy tips to the sky. It's still cold and severe. I wish the simplicity of winter would continue, not yet ready for the complications of spring. Now, in this stillness, I search the Book for words that will encompass and infuse me with enormity. Grasping the universal, pleading with God to make it internal. How puny are my thoughts, so inadequate, trivial. Cooing, gooing baby sounds. Then, for a few moments I am able to transcend the ink and paper words to the Word that spoke the world into being. I am dizzy at these heights and a little fearful. I descend too quickly into the living room, sitting on the sofa with my coffee, thinking about the trash or the argument in my head. Yet, I did look down on my life from a lofty place. I did look up into the bright clear heavens and see a brief glimpse of glory. Now, it's time for the day. Maybe it will be a day of grace and truth, not just baby sounds.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Political Anorexia

I was wondering how former Illinois governor Rob Blegoyevich could say he had done nothing wrong while the Illinois senate was listening to the actual recordings of him wheeling and dealing favors from his office. And now his appointee to the US Senate, Senator Burris, is doing the exact same thing. He claims he has done absolutely nothing wrong and that he's sure he will be vindicated.

It makes me wonder if there isn't a mental condition called, for lack of a better word, Political Anorexia. I do not mean any disrespect to people who suffer from the awful, wasting disease of anorexia. If I offend, please-please forgive me. But one of the puzzling symptoms of that disease is a distorted body image. People with this disorder actually view themselves as overweight when they may be extremely emaciated. Do these big city politicians suffer from a similar delusion? Do they look at their lifestyle and see virtue? Do they look at their political shenanigans and see service? Do they really and honestly think of themselves as being faithful servants to their constituents? Don't they see the greed and corruption, self service and aggrandizement that is so plain for everyone else?

Those of us who have never had political power have never experienced the heady exhilaration of controlling other people, dictating and manipulating them. It must be just like a disease or a disorder, in that it infects the mind and perverts the thought processes. Does that make me feel sorry for the people afflicted? To a degree, it does. But not to excuse their behavior. Not to permit them to continue. I fear submitting to people with mental disorders.

That explains a lot of what comes out of Washington, DC.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Eyes to See

Remember how, in the movie The Village, the elders let the blind girl go outside the village to get the medicine for the boy she loved. It was allowed not because she was the most devoted, the most insistent, persistent, or courageous; it was permitted because she WAS blind... blind to any seduction of the outside world. The villagers, at least the founders, were so hurt by the outside world that they were willing to construct a lie, albeit a "harmless" one, to keep their children from daring to venture forth. And they felt that she, being the blind one, would be unable to see what was beyond the woods.

I can think about this for days, this twisted logic that says a well-intentioned lie is better than the truth of the "real" world, that lying to protect someone is not really wrong, that the only recourse we have against the hurt and ugliness of the world is to withdraw from it. Like I said, I can meditate on this endlessly.

But the poignancy is that they allowed the blind girl to stumble through the forbidden woods to seek help from outside the village because she couldn't see the "truth" and bring it back. As we know from the story, things got out of hand and the system broke down under the weight of it's own deceit.

I belong to a group of believers that think that the only recourse we have against the pain and ugliness of this world is to be more involved in it, not less. This is accomplished by not separating or isolating but by embracing our culture and society, redeeming not rejecting it. That is a tough calling that requires constant vigilance: to be workers, not watchers of culture. Watchers are the ones who sit in the towers calling out when the evil thing is approaching. Workers are the ones that are in the woods doing things to make it healthier and safer for themselves and others to follow.

I hope I'm a worker, not a watcher.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Various Likenessess

Someone once said that the only perfect painting is the one that hasn't been started yet. With every stroke of paint the possibilities become increasingly limited by one's level of skill and vision. Painting portraits runs an even greater risk for failure. For me, nothing else comes close to the feeling I get when I finish a portrait and it still looks like the person it started out to be. But if it doesn't capture the likeness of my subject, my incompetence is exposed for any and all to see. Who would choose such a path? Who would want to expose themselves in such a vulnerable way? "Here's my belly! Plunge your knives of criticism right here!"

However, there is something blissful that happens when I step back and observe that one correct stroke of paint. I walk away, turning to see the painting from another vantage point. A bubble rises, like hope, all the way from my toes to the top of my head. Then, with joy shooting out of me like sunbeams, I reel around the studio, dancing with the dogs, laughing out loud and crying prayers of thankfulness.

Knowing that these moments will come make all the other times worth the struggle. That's why I paint.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Triumph of the Trivial

Have you recently surfed the television channels and gone round twice without finding anything worth watching? We have expanded basic at our house, which means we have a lot of channels but no premium channels. My husband, Tim, asked me if I could believe the wasteland of viewing and I said, "What do you expect?" We are besieged by the trivial, constantly bombarded by sex, strife, car chases, news tickers, weather alerts and reality shows. Almost all of it has little or no impact or effect on our lives, immediate or long term. Almost all of it is voyeuristic tittelation. Too much of everything.

I sound like I'm going to go stay on Walden Pond, don't I? Well, I may just do. But in the meantime, how do I carve out a quiet space to think and pray and just BE? Shall I go on a TV fast? Boycott all media ? Not likely. I like my Pandora too much.

Add to all of this noise and confusion: Facebook. I am so glad I joined recently because I found friends from all over the country. But I'm not going to be using it for daily dips into social interaction. It's the worst of the worst of what's wrong with our culture: people exchanging real social interaction for superficial texting, blogging, chatting, messaging... oh wait, did I say "blogging?" Well, we all have our inconsistencies.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Quiet

Decided to download John Michael Talbot's The Quiet. Just finished teaching a class; munching on crackers and peanut butter, trying to get my head and heart into the mode to create. It's really difficult to transition from one medium to another (clay to paint) as well as from the verbal (teaching) to the non-verbal (painting.)

One doesn't command creativity. It can sometimes be summoned by clearing your head of the trivial and dipping into the quiet. Diligently doing the hard work, the home work, sometimes precedes the flashes of inspiration, the muse, the divine.

Time to do the work.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Rilke said: "Things aren't all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life." (

L'Engle said that creating art is incarnational, that a work of art comes to us and we have the choice to be obedient to it and give it life or to be disobedient and refuse to deliver it. (Walking on Water, Reflections on Faith and Art, Madeline L'Engle

Both authors describe something that comes from within but takes on it's own existence.

It is a self-centered act to make art. You have to plunk away every day to keep your skills. You have to zealously carve out time to nourish your mental and spiritual health. Then you have to dig deeply inside to find what most matters to you and is worth getting out of you.

Hasn't someone already done it better or bigger than I ever could? What legitimate claim do I have for creating art? Does originality have as much importance as honesty and integrity? Integrity of materials, honesty of emotion? What's the good of my little pebble at the foot of the huge mountain of the world's art?

I just KNOW that I am compelled to paint and to not do so is dishonesty and deceit. To not do so is to not be fully me.

Leave all the notions of fame and fortune to others. To paint is to live. Live my work and love my life.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Funny Mirror

I have a mirror that used to be attached to the back of the closet door. I took it off and leaned it up against the wall. It droops, giving a slightly convex image. It makes me look taller and thinner. I like that image. I can chose to look in the dresser mirror which, I think, is the way I actually look: 30 lbs. overweight (okay, some might say 40 lbs.) Or I can chose to look in the slightly convex mirror. I like the way I look in that mirror. Maybe that's the way I really look and all the other mirrors are wrong. Perhaps it's up to me to chose the mirror that is "real."

I've been meditating on that for awhile. Can we chose our own truth? If I chose the mirror that reflects what I want it to, does that make it true? Is there such a thing as "truth?" If I mean that there is an absolute weight ascribed to an object with it's associated image of weightiness or weightlessness, than I think most people can assent to that. But if I mean the perception of a good or bad weightiness, than most of us will begin to squirm.

Many people deny that there is such a thing as absolute truth. But will anyone deny that the bent mirror is "wrong?" That some mirrors give more of a correct reflection than others?

I further reflected that the mirror is an excellent metaphor for one's "world view." I've always found the analogy of a "lens" helpful; that with which we view the world, that interprets culture, society, and even life itself. However, a lens is something that looks outward from ourselves, whereas a mirror reflects us as well as our surroundings, usually placing ourselves in the middle. How much more apt to use the mirror of our choosing? I choose the mirror that reflects what makes sense to me, that helps me to understand difficult issues that affect ME?

This blog is my funny, tilted, leaning-against-the-wall mirror.