September has been quite a busy month. I had hoped to have the worship/creative studio up and running, but it was not to be. Good things and less than good things came up and my time and energy has been spent elsewhere.
One good thing was a trip the the mountains of Pennsylvania to visit friends. A group of siblings were having a reunion and I have been adopted as an extra sister. It was a joyful time and road trips invigorate me in many ways. There are wonderful things to be discovered when staying with locals who know things off the beaten, touristy path and I enjoy driving across this big country.
Another lovely thing was meeting and studying contemporary calligraphy with Carl Rohr. If you’ve ever opened a Kindle reader and seen the brushwork calligraphy, you’ve seen his work. Actually, you’ve seen Carl's lettering on a lot of products and advertisements. He’s a very accomplished man who is approachable and generous in his teaching. He has a passion for lettering that I can’t say I share, but his way of making marks on paper was really fascinating and I hope to integrate what I observed into painting. A big thanks the the Pendragons of Kalamazoo for letting me join them for the weekend.
Other things have also been taking up my time and energy that have nothing to do with creativity or refilling the creative well. In fact, it’s been siphoning off my time and energy for my own studio work. The most I’ve been able to do at my studio is keep the lawn mowed and paint one of the garage windows.
An unexpected conversation brought the realization that I have been sacrificing a lot of time and energy for dreams that aren’t mine, while my own destiny lies waiting and ignored. I am at an age where my time and resources need to be more focused.
Changes are coming. Stay tuned.
For years I’ve experimented with calligraphy. I bought the basic pen holder, C-4 nibs, ink, slant guides, and books and practiced italic. I’m proficient enough to address some envelopes and that’s about it. The craft just never generated a passion in me.
I have a friend who is a calligrapher and she believes in me. She just knows I could do it and she has invited me to attend calligraphy groups and workshops with her. Since I love her, I’ve tried. Really. But other things call to me and I set aside the latest nibs and attend to them.
Lately, I’ve been kicking around a concept in my mind for a painting based on Micah 6:8. The idea I have consists of lettering, layering and collage. I want the lettering loose, bold and free. I turned to YouTube to find lettering artists that have bold styles and discovered a new calligraphy tool called a folded pen. It looked promising and I asked my calligraphy friend about it. Soon, I had a stack of books and a bag of pens to try out.
It turned out that I’m not a fan of the folded pen. However, I’ve discovered the beauty of the automatic pen. It was instantaneous. Bold, loose strokes just flowed from my arm through the pen to the paper. Finally - the bold look I’ve always wanted to make.
I believe I’m in love.
Last week, I stopped in at my in-law’s apartment. The temperature outside was in the 90s but when I went into the apartment, the air conditioning was turned off. Mom had a sweater on and was bundled up in a blanket. I don’t know how Dad can stand it. As we sat visiting, I was sweltering in my shorts and tank top but she couldn’t get warm. She told me she’s reached the point in life where she will never be warm again.
As we see each other day by day, I don’t really notice these changes. But when I come into a stifling apartment to find Mom freezing, the reality that she is not doing well is unavoidable. It gives me a momentary pause - we won’t have them for ever. It hits me suddenly and I am saddened.
But there are things to do and needs to be met, so I marshal on. Later, I sit in my studio in a fog, staring out the window. The fulness of our situation hits me once again and I weep.
Is it really any wonder why I can’t create?
Several weeks ago, on a lark, I applied for a position as painter/animator for an upcoming film titled Loving Vincent, about Vincent Van Gough. You can learn more about the film and view the trailer here: http://www.lovingvincent.com It is a fascinating concept and hope the film does well. I spent an entire day pulling material together to send in my submission for a chance to travel to Poland for the summer to paint and animate frame by frame, and earn a bit of cash.
I do have the chops for the project, but you could never tell by my portfolio. The whole process of trying to gather materials together was eye opening. I sent in my application simply to finish what I had started. It was obvious as I tried to organize images and information that it wasn’t going well. Needless to say, they didn’t call. However that’s not the point. At the end of the day, trying to put together a reasonable bio and digital sample sheet revealed that several years of building an art career has pretty much been lost.
Yes, I set painting down intentionally to care first for my mother and now for my wonderful in-laws. I did realize (at least to some extent) the sacrifice I was making at the time. I did hope one day I would return to it. Now, I’m realizing that in order to do so, I’ll have to start back at square one. I’ve lost or misplaced my archive of slides that need to be transferred into digital format. I have no idea who owns the works that were sold through various galleries and shows. A few blurry prints from old photos is not going to cut it. All the years of art shows, awards, group and solo gallery shows, and earning a listing in Who’s Who are gone. Perhaps gone is the wrong word. Irrelevant. The world of art has passed me by while I’ve attended to other (important) things.
Questions arise. Do I have the passion and the stamina it will take to start at the beginning again? Do I even want to, or do I want my creative expression to be more personal and out of the public eye? So far, that has mostly been the case. That begs another question. How do I make a living? Building up a body of work, entering shows, framing, and transporting work all take a chunk of change. Eventually, you may start selling and recouping your output but there are no guarantees. Do I want to go through that process again?
There always seems to be more questions than answers. Today is no different. But questions are important. Sometimes, more important that the answers. You wouldn’t know it by many conversations in the public square. Conversations about faith, social justice, equality or politics revolve on various people claiming they have the answer but often to questions no one is asking. Questions that have no relevancy. Seriously, a seventy year old Christian woman is paraded down the street naked in Egypt, there is genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo, there are serious questions of racial inequality in the United States, and our biggest public dialog is about bathrooms?
We need to not be afraid of hard questions and hard answers, or even no answers. Else we run the risk of being irrelevant.
Jane Rutherford has an excellent article on the Scribophile Writing Blog. The title is Writing Bootcamp: Writing Whenever, Wherever, Whatever. Whenever I’ve gone to a writer’s conference it never fails that I come away feeling guilty. Every workshop stresses that a writer needs to set a writing schedule and stick to it. I know there’s validity to that statement. As an artist I would tell my students the importance of spending time in the studio every day. Even if you didn’t paint that day, get into your workspace, spend time in there, draw, prepare painting surfaces, clean up the space, and just do something. Eventually, after putting in the discipline of setting aside the time the painting ideas will flow. I know that discipline works no matter what the creative medium is.
However, I am in a season of life where I simply cannot plan like that. Work might call and ask me to come in, or my in-laws may call with a crisis that cannot be ignored. If I find myself with an afternoon free, I most likely need to mow the lawn. Which brings me back to Ms. Rutherford. She observes that the popular technique of setting a writing schedule and sticking to it sounds great, but from experience she knows it can be rather difficult. Just seeing a professional writer say that in print was a massive relief. Her advice? Instead of setting up a schedule that won’t work and feeling guilty for not following it, write whatever you can, whenever you can, wherever you can. That advice is flipping brilliant in its simplicity. Be it writing or painting, just do what you can. Have a notebook or sketchbook with you at all times and do what you can, when you can.
With that in mind, I’ve pulled out a manuscript I’ve been working on for a few years and once more started working on it. It is in very rough form, but I’ve polished up about eighty pages (with the help of an editor) and it’s time to start working on it again. It’s my story of caring for my mother who was a very difficult woman. I stopped working on it because of all the things that were happening in my life and I had started to believe that my story doesn’t matter. Recently, I ran across a quote by Frederick Buechner that reminded me that idea was wrong. He said, “The power of stories is that they are telling us that life adds up somehow, that life itself is like a story”. My story matters. The story of forgiveness and care giving is something other people need to hear. We’re all in this together and we all need to share our stories.
A couple years ago, when our ancient car breathed its last in a construction zone during rush hour, my husband finally acknowledged it was time to get a different car. As we laid that vehicle to rest, Mike started doing research. We decided it was time to take a step of faith that I was really going to go back into painting and with that in mind, started making a list of what would meet my needs.
First and foremost was gas mileage. If I was transporting art, or attending workshops hither, thither and yon, I wanted great mileage. Then, there was the need for space. When transporting large canvases or panels (or antique mirrors), I’d need something that could fold down to lay things flat. And, since I love to paddle on rivers and lakes, I wanted to have a roof rack to transport my boat plus a hitch to pull a trailer full of kayaks. At first we were looking at station wagons, but then focused more on crossover SUVs. We found the Chevy Equinox fit the bill. It got the same mileage as the now defunct sedan, had lots more room for art supplies and as an added bonus - for someone who lives in the great white north - had seat warmers.
The Artmobile, as I called it, gave great service. It hauled me all over the Midwest, helped me move into my new studio, and was great for my mother-in-law to get into before her stroke, since she didn’t have to bend to get in nor have to be lifted to get out. It was an all-around great investment.
With a tear in my eye, I must report that the Artmobile has died. I was broadsided at an intersection on May 15th and was immediately enshrouded by airbags. It its final moments, the Artmobile took good care of me. There were a few cuts on my hand, but with the airbags, side curtains and seatbelt I was secure. I called 911, got my information together and then tried to move the car but it was no go. It was eventually taken away on a truck. I had the wherewithal to take a photo of the car before the towing company came. It’s the last I saw of it.
I am greatly blessed. No one in the collision (three cars were involved) was hurt. Mike and I had been wondering what to do with Dad’s car since he can no longer drive, and it is now sitting in our garage where the Artmobile used to reside. We have good insurance and have been reimbursed. All is well…or as well as it could be. I’m back to driving an old sedan with no seat warmer but it does have a roomy trunk. If the work starts pouring out from the studio we can look for another vehicle. For now, the Buick will do.
But if I’m completely honest, I have to admit I miss my car. It was good, it was solid, and I had plans to keep driving it for twenty years. We’ve all heard the saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” I’m pretty sure I’m hearing some giggles from heaven right now.
But Jonah got up and fled from the Lord…. (Jonah 1:3a International Standard Version)
Jonah is not the poster child of what we should aim for in our relationship with God, but I have to admit ... I relate to him. I currently find myself in a position that I would like to flee.
A couple weeks ago, my mother-in-law was reaching for something that was j u s t out of reach. She tried to extend her arm a bit more and something went ‘pop’. Long story short, she tore a bicep. Due to the medications she’s on, it started bleeding and her entire arm was swollen and the color of an eggplant. Eventually, she landed in the hospital.
After being there for almost a week, she has been transferred to a rehab unit. Through all of this, I’ve been there, being an advocate, being sure things are being communicated effectively, making sure the doctors have the correct information on meds and conditions, and dealing with my father-in-law who has beginning to mid-stages of dementia. Being out of her normal routine makes mom a little fuzzy, too, so it’s important for me to stay on top of everything.
It’s the same in rehab. Dad is confused and convinced we’ve placed mom someplace to die and breaks into sobs. I’m trying to comfort him, make sure the staff knows to keep mom’s arm elevated every time they re-position her after therapy to make sure she has her balance and strengthens her legs. In the meantime, mom is plotting how to get out of there and not have to do therapy anymore. “It’s dumb,” she tells me. She wants to go home and have the in-house physical therapy work with her. I know from past experience that if we do that, she’ll cancel it and just sit on the couch.
I’m the mean enforcer. All of this takes me back to the time I was caring for my mother as she was losing to Alzheimer’s. It was one long battle, day after day, to keep her safe and cared for. She didn’t want to be cared for. I was the mean enforcer then, too. All kinds of emotions are being stirred up these last two weeks, and none of them good.
Lying in bed one morning, I was thinking, “Just shoot me now.” My life was once again shrinking down to nothing but caregiving. No art. No writing. No time for friends. I’ve quit working out due to time and energy. Just get up, pick up Dad, go to rehab, oversee Mom’s care, talk with staff, notify the family on the latest developments, and then take Dad home. Repeat. Next week I have to add work into the mix. I’ve been through this before, and while I love my in-laws more than I can say, I want to jump on a boat and go the other way.
It was in this frame of mind, while in prayer, God directed me to I Samuel 15 and 16. This is the passage that relates what happened when David’s son tried to take over the kingdom. David fled with his entire household – most likely to avoid a siege and the destruction of the city – and encountered some who wanted to help and others who wanted to curse him. One man was throwing rocks and dirt on him screaming invectives and gloating that God was paying David back for perceived evil. One of David’s warriors got fed up and offered to kill the man. Here is the part that spoke to me that day – David told him that God was in control. Perhaps the Lord was telling this man to curse, or the Lord would hear these curses and restore him to his kingship. Either way, he was going to trust God knew what He was doing, and was doing it.
While I’m about the same age David was when he went through that trial, I am not in a position where I am responsible for hundreds of people on the run with me. I am merely caring for two elderly people. God is in control and has something for me in this. He also has something for my husband and his parents in this as well. When He is ready, He will either restore me to a life of art, or He will take it away. In either scenario, He is in charge and He is good. I have a history that proves it.
I have so much to do. I know you do, too, but this is my whine.
I’m taking the summer off to try to get things done. Work has been slow, so there’s no hardship on my co-workers.
I’ve been frantically trying to work in the studio, edit a manuscript and complete projects in the house. Mike and I were up late last night working on trying to complete an herb garden. We worked until a storm came in – or rather Mike did. I saw it coming, packed up my tools and went to soak in the tub. My husband is a diehard and kept at it.
Even with taking time off, I can’t see how I can get everything done. So when the going gets tough, the not-so-tough play computer solitaire. So much so, that now I have tennis elbow and am getting acoustic compression treatments to get it to heal. I’m not really impressed with myself, to be honest.
It is time for some serious prayer, but I seem to be rather lost even there. Me – the woman who loves prayer, who has spent hours in prayer, and who has received supernatural healing through prayer for crying out loud.
What is up with that?
Fortunately, I’ve stumbled on a book that seems to be helping me find my way again. It’s a work of fiction. I heard the author at a conference at Calvin College and made a mental note that I wanted to read her book. The title is Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown.
It’s the stories of four woman going through a spiritual formation class. I can see bits of myself in each woman. As I read their journey, it’s guiding me back to a place of deeper prayer and contemplation in ways I’d forgotten about. This book is filled with spiritual insights and gentle truths.
I think I’ll set aside my panic attack for now and read another chapter.
One goal for this summer was to take time off work to concentrate on painting in the studio and to write and polish the manuscript of the story of caring for my mother. After a series of fits and starts, it looks as if my time is opening up. Up to this point, there have been a few days off, and then I get called in to work. Last week I filled in all week for someone on vacation. But it looks like I finally have some time off for a bit and can start working in earnest.
Of course, once you sit down to write nothing comes to mind. But I will try.
My last post was about the Freedom 58 Project. I thought I’d post some photos of how the first painting is going. Please keep in mind it is a work in progress and isn't done. But if you aren't a painter, nor have ever seen a painting being developed, I thought you might find this interesting.
(For captions, hover the pointer over the image.)
It is a slow process, but it is coming along. I can tell I'm rusty, but I haven't lost my training completely. There's a parable in here. I'll leave it to you to figure it out.
In an effort to restart a creative life after years of caregiving, I splurged on season tickets for the Grand Rapids Ballet. Once a month or so, I get dressed up, find a friend who’s interested in going, and have a night out that includes visual and musical delights.
The most recent performance was called MOVEMEDIA, which is a group of contemporary works commissioned specifically for Grand Rapids’ company. Patricia Barker, the director of GR Ballet, gave a brief talk before the performances and explained the process of commissioning the pieces and how the different choreographers worked.
Rather than commissioning based on reputation or resume, the dances were chosen based on ideas, giving the work an innovative look at dance. The call for work was answered from artists worldwide. It promised to be an interesting night.
My friend and I took our seats and the first dance was introduced. This was a piece from a Spanish choreographer named Pedro Lozano Gomez. While working with the dancers he did not reveal to them what was going on in his life. He (and they) worked on the expressiveness of the dance. He wanted them to focus on their expression, and did not want their sympathy. Initially, he chose a title that expressed what life feels like with something vital missing. I believe it was “Missing a Limb.” However, Ms. Barker prevailed on him to name it “Juana” after his mother. The main character in the dance is “Mother” and the dance is about slowly losing her to Alzheimer’s.
This fact was revealed right before the curtain was raised and it sucked the air out of my lungs. Since, by current statistics, one in six seniors are dying with some sort of dementia, I feel rather confident that I wasn’t the only one. Still, there’s little comfort in that.
Thank God for kind and sensitive friends. Cindy leaned over and whispered, “Are you ready for this?” “No,” I replied. But just the act of asking me made it bearable. The performance was heartbreaking to me. As “Mother” was slipping away, I saw the others as her children and memories trying to bring her back to them. She drifts farther and farther away. I was quietly crying throughout the piece.
I pray that someday the art I create will have that much power.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.