I came out of this summer lucky. I went on beautiful walks, visited friends and family, traveled a little bit, and even got my new Paint and Sip business off the ground. I downplayed my happiness because I fell into the trap that many humans do- bracing for punishment- feeling that success and happiness will always be short-lived- that something is always lurking around the corner. In this limbo, we hesitate to sink into contentment and we hover like cats on a wall, ready to spring into action or escape should a threat approach. Around me people suffered. Great losses and tragedies occurred and I felt powerless to stop it, even guilty for having nothing "bad" happening directly to me in the moment. Then I thought about PERSPECTIVE.
I remembered a hard day from when I was in my 20's- I was sitting in a diner alone, crying on a rainy day. (How cliché melancholy is that?) My car had just broken down under a busy bridge in Worcester and I wasn't able to make it to my job as a homecare provider because my car was being towed. I was already in the negative in my bank account and behind on my rent. I knew the car needed to be fixed, but I didn't have the money, and I was in more of a jam because I no longer had a vehicle to get to my job to make more money. All I could do was cry. I sat in a booth and told the server that I was just waiting for a ride. An older gentleman a few rows away saw me. The server came over to me quietly and whispered "That man just offered to buy you breakfast if you'd like?" I glanced at him over the rows of booths. He smiled gently and waved. I smiled back and only ordered a coffee. Slightly embarrassed, I thanked the man and told him it had just been a rough day and I appreciated his gesture.
In that moment (and in many moments during this period of my life) I felt hopeless. I didn't know that I just needed to keep going, embrace the kindness of strangers, and soon enough almost all of my dreams would come to fruition. I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for the help of people I knew, and even some people I didn't.
Taking perspective is not a mocking "things-could-always-be-worse" toxic-positivity tactic, it is simply a reminder that everyone is fighting a battle, whether it looks like it from the outside or not. At many points in my life I have felt I was in a muddy pit, trying desperately to dig myself out, only to be covered again and again. At those times, I used to think about people who had it worse, or imagine scenarios that would truly break me. I felt guilty for complaining, for crying alone in a diner- like I didn't deserve to say I was in pain. After all, I was responsible for the decisions I made. Taking perspective is how I try to approach things now, whether I am having a hard time, or floating on a cloud. In life there will always be instances that are unfair, tragedies that can't be avoided. There will be times when you may want to blame yourself "if only I..." but these are useless sentiments, and they won't change time or ease the grief. It's ok to have a cry over something as mundane as spilling your cup of coffee if you're having a bad day, just as it's ok to go to a party and laugh after the death of a friend. Life continues to move whether we have our feet hanging from the train car or not. The most important thing is to ENJOY THE RIDE. Take the vacation day. Book the plane ticket. Drink the wine. Have incredible and comforting sex. Eat the pasta with the real butter and the freshly grated cheese. Help a stranger. Buy your spouse or a friend flowers just because. Stay out late reminiscing with your old roommate you haven't seen in months, even if you have to work in the morning. Life is cruel. Life is short. Life is that carnival ride that made you puke that one time, but you still went on it again and again to feel the rush.
Spring hopped by like a quick splash in a puddle. Weekends muddled together and months that seemed far in the distance approached like afternoon thunderstorms. A dream that I had conjured years ago to start my own paint and sip business became slightly more tangible as I took some first steps. I started a website with my own domain name, created a business bank account and even ran my first "test" event on Mother's Day. Although I have hit a few roadblocks along the way- mainly being out of touch with mainstream social media and the slow progress in finding consistent (and free) event space, I am prepared to take it slow and not overwhelm myself before I begin to turn the ignition. All good things come in good time.
I will continue to occupy my time with creative explorations. I have been walking with my good friend Amber on my off Mondays, I have attended a couple networking events and I have tried a few new local places with my husband. I have an art piece on display at the library in Bristol for the 4th of July Celebration show and I have been experimenting with new art mediums to offer as possible workshops for my business. I will try my best not to go too hard on myself this summer if I feel a creative lull, or if I ever feel as if I am not doing enough. I will allow myself to relax and not feel guilty about it.
I've heard that a habit can be made or broken in 30 days- or is it 28? As each new year rings in, I try to reflect and find both a good habit that I would like to begin- and a bad habit that I would like to break. I would love to say that I've looked back on the year and I have seen a list of accomplished tasks neatly checked off as the months went by, but more often than not, I find the same few items shifting month to month in my notebooks, promisingly written in bright, flashy flair pen, but with empty check boxes. Sure there were times throughout the year when I donned my yoga pants, walked for a few miles, and came home to accomplish some other pressing task that I had been avoiding, giving myself the opportunity to feel accomplished, like I had climbed the mountain....but then I reached sweeping "valleys" where all I could feel up to was the bare minimum, like washing the dishes or picking out my clothes for the next day. My valleys often times feel like endless pits of guilt and procrastination. I know I am not alone in this, but it does feel lonely when I have been spending days, weeks, or months shifting tasks from the "to do" list to the "to do later" list, and it's only myself at the bottom of the pit, no one but myself who suffers the consequences. My years end up looking like line graphs or a heart-monitor screen- some mountains climbing and some valleys stretching uncomfortably long. I look back at some of the things I feel most guilty for, like binge-watching a new show on Netflix, lying in the bathtub for over an hour with a book, or even accidently falling asleep on the couch to the soothing sounds of Judge Judy. I tell myself that these indulgent moments could have been used to prepare a lesson for the following week, to purge my closet, or to make tedious phone calls I have been avoiding. Maybe one year I really will keep up with one of my "good" habits, like going for a walk everyday, preparing for work weeks ahead of time, or even bravely attempting Hal Elrod's "Miracle Morning", instead of just accomplishing short bursts interrupted by long guilt-ridden valleys of inactivity.
OR MAYBE.... I could reframe these mountains and valleys as the natural rhythm of my life.
Maybe watching a Netflix show with a glass of wine and my husband is bringing us closer as a couple, because we always have something new to discuss. Maybe I shouldn't feel guilty about actually using my luxury bathtub that was one of the reasons we bought our house- and I earned it dammit! And maybe, just maybe falling asleep in the middle of the day means I need to listen to my body and actually let myself rest. Still dealing with the mud swamp that is Covid-living, I feel like we all need those valleys, between the mountains, because without them, the summit, when it is finally reached will only feel that much higher.
With uncertainty hanging in the air, we decided this summer to spend the most of our time getting familiar with our new home town in Bristol. We have explored the picturesque water view trails, attended some food truck events at Colt State Park and of course indulged in some pints at our local Breweries. Typically our summer weekends are spent on Cape Cod, which we have visited about every other weekend, but home projects and an abundance of activities have kept us back in Bristol for a majority of the time. We experienced our first Bristol Fourth of July Parade and enjoyed some get-togethers on our new patio. Our house siding was completed early in July and we are in the process of changing outdoor lights around the house. It's hard to believe my summer will be ending in just a few weeks, but I plan to make the most of it!
There hasn't been a more appropriate time than during a global pandemic lockdown to reflect on the meaning and value of home. This theme has stuck with me since I was in high school when I was trying to narrow down my concentration for my AP Art Portfolio exam. At the time I created numerous sketches of "memories" which I was told was too vague to become my concentration. I was stuck and I played with various ideas in class, but I found my thoughts wandering to family and the sadness I was feeling at the time from the recent passing of my grandmother, "Grammy"- she was the first really close relative I had lost. Often my best work has come spilling out of me in a overflow of emotion- it comes without pre planned sketches or thoughts. Without any plans I began furiously painting my grandparent's farmhouse, the house that my father grew up in and had become a staple of my childhood. I painted the winding rocky driveway, the stone walls, the red barn with the family tree painted on the side. I painted my grandfather raking while we filled large jack-o-lantern bags with leaves. I made sketches of my sister jumping between the two beds in the room with the ticking clock. All of the drawings and paintings were memories tied to a place I had called another home. My high school art teacher asked, "Is this your house?" and I told her "No, it's my grandparent's house, and we are about to sell it because no one in the family is able to buy it...my grandmother just passed away and my grandfather is in a nursing home and can't stay there alone." Her face crumpled with empathy..."That's your concentration Darling."
My grandfather died shortly after I finished my portfolio and the house has haunted me since. It was a hard time for our family and still hurts to think about losing the house that held so many memories. As I grew up I had experienced many "homes", places that felt like home, and I experienced heartbreaking loss, of not only people I loved, but the places that encompassed their presence, and the presence of my memories. I circled back to this same theme for my graduate school thesis. It was like a persistent itch that kept reappearing under scarred skin. I constructed a dollhouse and created rooms representing the memories and feelings of homes lost. Each room marked a part and place of my life, from my early childhood to my first apartment. I was contacted recently by my professor and she wanted to feature my work in a research paper. I happily gave her permission to use my thesis. Working through this project and the subsequent paper gave me creative closure, but the ending is still unknown.
I think about the homes I've had and what each represented. I think about my first apartment where I struggled to pay the bills on my own, but I had my own little window herb garden and that made me feel like I was getting it together. I remember visiting my boyfriend (now husband) in Rhode Island at his basic bachelor pad with minimal decoration where I would get butterflies every time he asked what kind of chips I wanted at the grocery store, because it meant he was envisioning our future snacking together. From our humble first starter home to our new dream home that we are slowly customizing and filling with new memories, home has transcended for me from a place to a feeling; a comfort that feels like the ultimate thirst being quenched.
Now I sit in our upstairs office surrounded by paint cans and tools because we are in the middle of remodeling this room, and the dollhouse sits next me, it's saying: "Hey, now that you're happy at home, don't forget the homes that made you."
There is a new meditative drawing trend that I recently started looking into, Neurographic drawing (so new that autocorrect doesn't recognize it apparently). This exercise is basically a way of making marks without focusing on the marks themselves, but on things that are on your mind, mainly problems and things that are causing you stress. The idea is to create long flowing lines across a page as you focus on your problem, then after a few minutes you are supposed to "round out" all of the sharp corners as a metaphor for "softening" your worries. These designs are generally colored in as abstract art and they look very unique and interesting. I recently took the position of art club facilitator for the high school in my district and when I suggested we try this exercise on our Zoom meeting, I was delighted to see the students sink into it and become absorbed in their drawings for an entire hour. When I focused on what was bothering me, some of the normal school and family worries came up, but nothing was more pressing than the back and forth political arguing that I have been witnessing mostly on Social Media. I make it a point to always keep my social media personal since I believe there are too many opportunities for information to be misconstrued and for emotions to boil, causing knee-jerk reactions that could possibly create a domino effect that is detrimental to not only relationships, but to your own mental health. Being stuck home behind screens for months on end has poured lighter fluid onto the fire, and I believe so many people are willingly walking into the flames. We have been brainwashed to believe that we are part of the change because we are loudest, when in reality it is the quiet gestures of your everyday life that create a different domino effect, one of kindness, nurture, and peace. I was reminded of a New York Times article by Jessica Bennet that I came across on one of those days I was mindlessly scrolling Facebook seeing argument after argument lighting fires everywhere. This article focuses on Professor Loretta J. Ross from Smith College who teaches how to combat "call-out" culture by understanding why people have the opinions that they have, and to actually find common ground. She believes the true answer to change is by "Calling- in" or listening and understanding, rather than shaming.
As I started to round out all the sharp corners of my flowing lines across the page, I thought about gratitude and the things in my life that I am grateful for. I started to feel the tension ease from my shoulders. In addition to this artful meditation I have also continued walking around my neighborhood and into nature to gain some perspective. I have put my energy into cooking cozy soups on cold days (the white cheddar bisque from the Magnolia Cookbook is to die for) and stretching my creativity as much as possible. When I find myself in a moment of mindless scrolling, I will mentally weed out anything toxic and focus on the beauty of everyday life, keep spreading your art, "round out" those corners of animosity and step back to see the big picture.
As expected this crazy year, my first couple months of school were filled with worry, last minute trainings, and throwing out of well-intended, but too-ambitious-in-this-climate plans. I feel as if I've run back to back marathons and I have still gained weight. This feeling of being exhausted and unable to catch up is not unique to myself, it seems to be a collective mood throughout the world right now.
I remain hopeful that things will change and slowly start to revive. In the meantime, I pledge to appreciate the simple and positive things in my life. Since the pandemic; I have reconnected with my old college roommates on Zoom, I live in a wonderful walkable neighborhood near the ocean, I have a job that is stressful, yet worth it for all of the happy moments and connections with my students, and finally I have really embraced and made the most of my alone time. (Improving my cooking, starting to write again, and getting sufficient snuggle time with my two kitties) As much as I enjoy my "me-time", I would like to work on my relationships- because we all need to connect now more than ever. Whatever this winter brings, I would like to make a point to reconnect with people, however I can manage. Call, write, and gift with sentimental intention. Big things are going to happen in the future, but for now, I just need to slow down and breathe.
I, like many other people, did not believe that this virus situation would still have a hold on us at this point in the end of the summer. After spending my entire summer vacation planning for whatever the new school season brings, getting things moved in and organized and adjusting to life in a new and beautiful area, I haven't been able to do many of the things I have wanted to do- mainly travel and visit places with large crowds. All of my carefully laid plans seem to have been pushed to the wayside (no- I have NOT started an exercise routine). It's easy for me to look back at my summer and feel as if I have nothing to show for it...but then I stepped back and really looked at my accomplishments, however small, and I don't feel so bad about it. I think about the way our new house looked in the first few weeks we lived here- piled with junk that needed to be donated (but couldn't at the time because of virus restrictions). I thought about the boxes of mismatched stuff that I didn't have a home for and the same pile of tools that moved from room to room whenever we needed to hang pictures or something. Now, walking around my house, everything is slowly coming together. I have explored the area around us, taken bike rides on the bike path, painted a sign for our mailbox, and helped my husband with several in and around-the-house projects. The funny thing about given extra time is that our guilty work-work-work attitude makes us feel unaccomplished if we didn't spend every hour of every day with some kind of activity. I find myself trying to multitask so much that I only allow myself to watch John Taffer scream at inept bar owners if I also have my lunch and some type of activity on my lap, that way I'm not just watching Bar Rescue and "wasting" my day- I am also eating my lunch and accomplishing something. I need to allow myself to have moments of laziness and not feel guilty about it. When I look back at many of the things I have done- it actually seems pretty productive. I did break out the pasta maker and made my own fettuccine, I also made homemade salsa for the first time and I even started writing a little bit again. If we allow ourselves to start feeling guilty about every little moment "wasted" we won't learn to appreciate little accomplishments. Things are about to get super busy for the school year whether I am teaching online, in-person or both, so I need to use this time to actually allow myself to relax. Travel will happen again, but for the meantime I can spend my remaining days of summer daydreaming :)
I feel like we will be starting to refer to periods of time similar to the characters on the Walking Dead- "what were you doing before the virus?" Before the virus I had big plans to start walking more often, but as our house search became more aggressive during the months as the virus was rapidly closing in on the United States, we spent every available hour either purging our house of unnecessary things, or visiting open houses. Now that things are moving along smooth-ish with all of our paperwork sent out, our house in tip-top shape ready to be put on the market, and with the Coronavirus keeping us at home, I decided to invite my husband Brad along on one of my walks- still maintaining well over 6 feet distance with the general public! Sunday we went to the center of Wickford and found a small path that we had never noticed before called "The Wickford Walk" that roped around the marshes and scrub pine forests that surround the little seaside village. We walked and I snapped some pictures of the marsh to draw later. I am still going to try to make it outside as much as possible in nature in order to combat the cooped-up feeling that I believe is only just beginning.
All I can say about this crisis is that THANK GOODNESS I AM AN ARTIST! Artists are carefully trained to see the beauty in the mundane, to breathe life into the inanimate, and to create something inspiring from the dust of everyday. This week has caused me to think outside the box and figure out how to create with limited resources. I have been frantically putting together assignments for my students to complete at home without knowing if they even have access to paper and pen! I have also been trying to get prepared for a move across the state to the East Bay of Rhode Island, which actually has been going pretty well considering the circumstances- I suddenly am able to have all this time at home to organize, purge and pack for the move! Yesterday while burning a bunch of junk-y furniture in my backyard, I decided to sketch my cats playing in the trees, enjoying the sunshine. I also noticed the first few buds popping up from the ground. I am hoping during all this I can also take the time to do somethings that I have not tried- like using my pasta-maker (still in the box). Stay well, Make Art, Read, and Enjoy!