Now everything is easy…

Like the rest of the world, I had a hard start to 2020, made harder by the fact that my house was empty of kittycat feet for the first time in nearly 18 years. I missed Molly the most when I was home in a quiet house, and the pandemic made for a lot of that, even when my husband started working from home in March.

I’m not a dog person, and definitely not a kid person, but I am 100-percent a cat person, in case that isn’t obvious. I missed Molly so much, and so many other changes coming after her death just made it harder. Everything was different. At Christmas we had a Molly, I had a career that was going somewhere. James was working from his office, which gave him the social interaction that he needs, and me the necessary time and focus to successfully work, write and create. We had planned a year full of travel, fun and forward motion. And then, of course, it stopped. And while we still have our health, most of our income, and the basics and many extras of the life that we enjoy, we have lost a lot, too. We both lost close family members in the first part of the year, and even our neighborhood still looks weird and a little bleak after the tornado that blew through in October 2019.


Molly was my first cat, so I hadn’t been through this process before. I still missed her so much, but over time, was also opening up to the idea of bringing something good into the still too-quiet house. But, had enough time passed? Would I be able to love potential kittens for who they were, or would they be “not-Mollys,” which would be unfair to them?


A few weeks after Molly died, I was out with friends when James got home from work, It was the first time that he had to experience coming into the silent house without me or Molly in it. He was greeted by a little black cat, a House Panther, who approached him, scratched a little bit on the welcome mat and then walked away. We had not seen this cat before, and have not seen it since. But James felt, and I agreed, that maybe it was an intermediary, sent to tell him that Molly was okay and that there would be more cats in our lives, and that would also be okay.


When we started putting “cat vibes” out into the world, I didn’t care what the kitties looked like, where they came from, if they had three legs or one eye or anything like that. I just wanted cats that were healthy and didn’t hide, and I wanted two, so that they could have more companionship than Molly had, especially as we plan to resume travel in the future.

We jokingly began looking for kittens under bushes and in ditches on our evening walks, and I even had a song, “Where are you, Kittens?” set to the tune of “Where are you, Christmas?” that I’d sing around the house.

And there’s a song by Crosby, Stills and Nash, “Our House,” that I’d listen to and feel so sad. “With two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard, now everything is easy because of you…” I wanted easy. I was ready for it. In my world, I felt things would feel “easy” when the cats came, because the noise and the feedings, playing, misbehaving, all of that would make the house feel normal, and normal was close enough to easy.


So, in early May we went to East Texas for my Auntie’s funeral, and I got a lead on some cats. On my birthday, the 15th, we decided it was time to choose two, and the next weekend, we met my mom, cousin and aunt in Athens, Texas and picked Bonnie and Beans from a huge cat carrier where they were lounging with their siblings.

Beans is a black kitty, a House Panther chosen not only for his expressive face, but also because he reminds us of that little kitty of hope that visited James in January. Bonnie’s bright eyes and “fairy ears” charmed us immediately. Being Texas cats, they have Texas formal names: Bluebonnet, and Bosque Coffee Bean. But Bonnie and Beans for everyday.


Now everything is easi(er). Easy? No way. We are still in a pandemic. James is still set up on his laptop in the middle of the living room while I carve out a few hours here and there to try and pick up the pieces of my career and creative practice with the ground still shifting under my feet. Covid is still raging and now it’s in my home community in East Texas, which is scary because there are many fewer resources there, and the population skews older and more fragile. I don’t know when we will travel again – we have planned trips and canceled them at least three times in all this, and I’m really sad that I won’t be going to LA this September to see the beach and art adventure, and to see my old friends, and meet their new baby.

But we have the kittens, and with them, a routine. Kitten food, play time, naps, more food and TV time before bed. They don’t know anything about a pandemic, they just explore and romp and play. They are fun to watch. They’re lap cats who love toys, unlike Molly, who was of course still perfect in every way. Having two, it’s fun to watch them interact. They take turns tossing a toy mousie around, and they love to be carried from room to room in what we refer to as “the royal procession.” Sweet Beans has attached himself to James, and Bonnie runs around chortling like a delighted banshee. They are happy cats. It’s nice to feel like we are doing something right. When things feel so hard, it’s nice that something is easy.

Printed Family Portraits

As I get older and time passes, I am always exploring ways to use art to communicate and share my East Texas roots and young adulthood. I write about some of this in my occasional Pine Curtain Stories project, but have also been thinking of ways to make art around the theme that is a little less illustrative. But I am not a portraitist or skilled in realistic painting , and I want to keep some of the figurative/narrative theme.

Since I have so enjoyed my recent plexiglass printmaking, I decided to expand that work to make abstract prints of family photographs. The first one is of my grandfather and uncle, sometime in the 1960s. It’s a work in progress, as I still need to do some embellishing.

I love making these, and using family and community images gives the work a deeper purpose. I also like this type of printmaking, because the final result is nothing like the original guide piece. It comes out more blurry in some ways, brighter in others. Fitting for such memories.

Plexiglass plate over a copied photo. I add the color one layer/spot at a time and quickly pull two prints, touching up the paint a little in between.
Background prints.
Print process complete. Next step will be to add some finishing touches with pastel and ink.

Hold Steady

Good Gravy. Nothing like a little pandemic to make every life choice seem both vitally important and totally inconsequential. I think everyone’s theme word for the year simultaneously shifted to Survive. Rightfully so. It’s hard to focus on “enlightened” needs right now. I mean, when your house is burning, who cares if the bed is made?

None of us are in control right now, if we ever even were.

It’s a lot for me, and for you and for everyone in the whole world.

So what is an everyday person to do? Those of us who don’t work in a vital service industry or on the heroic front lines of health care probably find ourselves at a loss right now. We do the right thing by following public health policies, supporting local businesses, tipping extra…and then what? Speaking for myself, when I get to the part of my brain that controls my “what about me?” response, I don’t have a lot of answers right now.

But “what about me?” is a valid question. We function as a society and work for its good, but we matter as individuals, too. It matters if my business fails or if your company furloughs you. It matters that your kids can’t play with their best friends for who knows how long, or if you don’t get to hug your loved one when they’re ill. It matters! And it’s all happening at once!

The best I can come up with is to share some practical advice from a boss I really liked at a job I really hated.

This workplace was super toxic and extremely full of itself, and every day was an exercise in back room dealings, corporate caste systems and general treachery. It brought out the worst in everyone. But in the middle of all that was my team, which I liked and a boss, who I respected. When I’d go to her office to talk about the latest lie, injustice or general nonsense we had been subjected to and ask how to respond, she’d say “We are going to come to work every day, do our jobs and do our best. We will do exactly what we have been doing.” It was hard to hear sometimes, because it is human to want to react, to fight back or defend ourselves. But since then, I think of that advice when things get so chaotic that my judgement is clouded.

So right now, that’s what I am doing. There is too much to think about, and it is so hard to make decisions when the global landscape changes so quickly, not to mention the simple matter of all the extra steps we have to take to stay healthy and alive.

When things began to shut down, I panicked. My business was just starting to take off, and suddenly, not only could I literally not do it, I also had to try and stay top of mind with my (relatively new) connections without having anything real to offer. No travel meant no meaningful updates for my social channels, etc. I have been a freelance writer for years, but had decided to cut back to grow the business. Scramble time all around. I feel like I’ve pivoted so much I’m back at the beginning! And technically, we (in Texas) are still in month one!

But I am trying to follow the good advice that my former boss shared. Every day, I wake up and I go to work. I stay the course. I am trying new initiatives and projects but nothing drastically different than I was doing six weeks ago, and I’m not knocking myself out to put out new stuff all the time. I’ve temporarily resumed more freelance writing work, because its a known entity, and my other work doesn’t take up 40 hours right now. I’m trying really hard to stay in my lane and succeeding, mostly.

I’m creating art, of course, and writing creatively as well. But right now, those things seem like luxuries. Beneficial and important luxuries, but luxuries all the same. So, I’ll get back to that later, in a different post. I don’t want to be mistaken for being someone who thinks all of this a “blessing,” or a call to “slow down” or to “take time to dance.” If we are dancing, it is because there are hot coals under our feet.

Make room for pleasure, definitely and relax when you can. If you are a spiritual person, lean on your faith. But self care, and even spiritual faith can also look like showing up for your professional, family or personal responsibilities; doing what you need to do, and doing your best.

Take it day by day.

Making Oil Paint

An upside of the social distancing we are experiencing, is that there’s not much to entertain or distract me from my studio. When things get busy, it is one of the first activities to be pushed aside, which makes no sense, because when I am in there, almost immediately, I feel relaxed and productive. I think it’s human nature, or at least American nature, to feel that if something is “fun” than it isn’t work, and if it isn’t work, than it’s not as important as work. Even though I like my actual “work,” I am not immune to that attitude.

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to work with oil paint, but my studio supplies are getting out of control and I don’t want to buy anything new until I work on that. But I have oil sticks, pigment and oil binder. So, I decided to try making my own oil paint from pigment and safflower oil, and with a little oil mixed into oil stick.

I used Earth Pigments and Schmincke pigments (Pthalo Green), with Winsor & Newton binder and Shiva sticks. Since I’m happy with the outcome, next time I’ll use some of my precious Kremer pigments! This method worked for me, since I work in small batches and at this time, am not producing collector-quality works for sale or display. When I decide to upgrade the work, I’ll do more research and upgrade the process and materials accordingly, I am sure.

There are so many ways that creative work can bring joy and satisfaction. I love being able to experiment with raw materials to make something new. I’m self aware enough to know that I am not the world’s best artist, and that’s okay. My creative satisfaction comes from the act of creating something completely new, whether it’s a piece of art, a rubber print block that I carved and used, or mixing up paint in an new shade or finish. I enjoy breaking things down to their component parts and then rebuilding them into something useful and custom-made.

In this chaos, for me at least, it’s going to be important to look beyond the usual for validation and happiness. Everything from client acquisition and feedback to social media measurement will dip, so those things aren’t accurate metrics right now. My business, like most businesses, will just have to be what it is for a little while, but I can regain some of that validation through my creative work. While I don’t know what life will look like on the other side of this, it really does help to identify healthy and creative things that I can control, and do more of those things while the world works itself out.

There wasn’t sparkly green, antique rose gold or sheer pink iridescent oil paint in my world before I went into the studio yesterday, and now there is. I can see it, mix it, paint with it, and finish the day knowing that I built one small thing that does what it’s supposed to do.

Establish

“Slumgullion (The Venerate Outpost)” Philbrook Museum, Tulsa, OK.

Late last year, I posted about taking a sabbatical year” to focus on my personal and professional creative work. Whether you call it Murphy’s Law or the universe saying “hold my beer,” my good intentions left the rails almost immediately.

In January alone the cat died, James’ aunt died, James spent a week in Las Vegas with his work and I lost what felt like an entire day in a suburban Chico’s while my mom tried on various “perfect black pants” that all looked exactly the same. We went to East Texas and drove to the beach for a day with my parents. I worked, kept up the house, saw friends when I could, read a bit, watched some TV and then it was February and time to plan my first art tour. And so on, and so on. I felt like I inhaled at the end of December and exhaled sometime in the last week or so.

Great sabbatical mindset, right?

But some things have gone well. I use social media and my mobile devices less and less, which feels better and better. I still don’t pick up my phone or iPad until after I have had coffee and read a bit. That has been nice, and as a bonus, helps navigate and give perspective to the wild news cycles.

I also had time to think about a word for the year, or for the next ten months rather, since it was almost March by the time I got around to it. “Establish.”

Last year’s word was “Forward.” At the start of 2019 I was sitting with a lot of uncertainty over things that weren’t moving as they should, proverbial centers that I knew simply would not hold. So in the trend of picking a theme word for the year, “Forward” was a good touchstone, an idea to make decisions around, and a reminder to take risks and just make the decisions I needed to be somewhere other than I was, and get back to liking my life.

In my last corporate job, I was responsible for building IT processes and setting global business priorities. This involved taking a great deal of data and qualitative input from our markets around the world, accounting for risks and uncertainties, and organizing that information into policies that our entire global ecosystem would agree to participate in and abide by for tasks like bug resolution, feature implementation and new initiatives requests. It was extremely difficult, and I say this as someone who also had to manage a complex, high stakes, multi-vendor, multi-time zone code update around the devaluation of the Belarusian ruble. (Understand why I work in art now? Haha.)

I loved discovering, analyzing and organizing all the information, but some of the other details…not so much.

But I am a framework person, and frameworks help my creative and personal life just as much as they helped my big, messy corporate life. They keep information from overwhelming me and also build in things to look forward to. I can’t predict what positive results will be, but I truly believe that by following healthy habits, positive results will come. And that is exciting.

2019 was so “Forward” that it blew past the finish line and into 2020, I guess. But after a well-earned few weeks to rest and reset, better late than never, I am ready to “Establish.”

Where does this fit into the idea of a sabbatical year? Establishing a solid foundation directly supports the creative, personal and professional goals that I have for 2020. Establishing gives me a concrete, manageable idea to focus on, and a consistent, larger goal when individual priorities compete or become confusing. It is also a logical next step from “Forward.” While I wouldn’t want to pick 2021’s word so early, I am hoping that I’m preparing myself for years to come in which I can launch.