Friday, August 5, 2022

LOOKING BACK TO GO FORWARD



Evolution by Martha Slavin


While we lived in Tokyo, I walked our son to school every day. On the shady street leading to the school, a tall, elegant woman swept her steps each morning. I nodded at her and said. "O ha oo go zi a ma su." She would say the same back to me. We never spoke beyond that phrase, but our "Good mornings" became a ritual. I didn't know much Japanese, and she never offered any English. It didn't matter. For a very brief moment in time, we connected.

When my grandmother Mimi died, my mother took home her jade plant that Mimi had been tending in her backyard. Every time I saw the plant, I was reminded of Mimi and her white, white hair and blue eyes. And her aprons and solid, sensible shoes. And the paper dolls from McCall's magazine she saved for us each week when we visited her and Grampy every Friday. Mimi also showed me how to set a table properly. She showed me which fork and knife went where and how to fold a napkin.


Freedom Found in Flying by Martha Slavin


Little rituals like these become such an important part of our memories. Sometimes repeated experiences etch themselves into our minds such as remembering a dad's cigar smoke or cleaning cars growing up. Sometimes it's an unexpected event that stays with us, such as the time coming home from Tokyo for the summer, I leaned against the plane's window and saw miles and miles of whales swimming in the same northern direction. I was transfixed by the thousands of enormous beings swimming with such purpose. That awe-inspiring memory has stayed with me.

Sometimes a phrase or action stays with us long after the person we interact with is no longer in our life. I remember a college professor asked me if I planned to be a writer. I wish I had paid more attention to her and pursued a writing career, but her words remained with me and encouraged me to keep writing for myself. Over the years, I wrote in a daily journal, joined a writers group, led a writers group for a while, and finally started writing this blog, with many positive results from the unexpected responses from people who read my Friday posts. Thank you all.


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Take a look at these three blogs that I follow:

Chandra Lyn's Pics and Posts for her photography. Scroll down to see her photos from a 30-day challenge:  https://iamchandralynn.com/2022/08/03/seven-favorites-from-world-watercolor-month-sunflowers-of-course

Letty Watt's Literally Letty blog, this week features some good advice about staying healthy and active. She also occasionally lets her dog take over and he writes some funny posts. https://literallyletty.blogspot.com

Pamela Paulson's TreeWhispers blog: Look quickly because she has reposted one of my posts about trees this week. https://treewhispers.com/blog/ Thank you, Pamela!



Friday, July 29, 2022

GIVING ART

 




Most movies are entertaining in the moment and then disappear from our thoughts, but others leave a lasting impression. The 2000 movie, Pay It Forward, made me think of ways I could pay it forward too. A local hospice organization has offered just such an opportunity. 

The choice of hospice is often a difficult one to make. I first experienced hospice services at the end of my father-in-law's life. He was in a hospital and was moved from active patient care to hospice rooms. He died shortly after. My mother-in-law also was placed in hospice at the skilled nursing facility where she lived. Again, the service provided the loving care that was needed at the end of her life.

When I read that one of our local hospice groups wanted artists to submit small works of art that could be displayed in a hospice patient's room, I jumped at the chance. Here was one way I could pay it forward. The artwork they requested needed to be as small as 4 inches by 4 inches and easily displayed.





The first time I brought artwork to them a few years ago, the hospice volunteers were so appreciative of my work that I vowed to continue to support them each year when they asked for more art. COVID intervened; but this year Hope Hospice is back collecting small art pieces again, with a more definitive set of guidelines for the work they will accept. Because many of their patients have some level of dementia, the artwork needs to be representational, not abstract. The Hope Hospice program gives artists a way to bring a little bit of brightness and joy to someone at the end of their life. I hope other hospice services have picked up on this program so that artists in different parts of the country can pay it forward too. 






In memory of two cousins, Todd Heimdahl and Shelley Grant, who passed away this year.



To read or submit artwork to Works of Hope, click here.

Friday, July 22, 2022

WHAT CAR IS THAT?

 

Photo by Bill Slavin

Did you know the make and model of every car on the road when you were growing up? 

I wanted to share with you the story my husband, Bill, the photographer, has to tell about the cars on the road when he was young. 


WHAT CAR IS THAT?  by Bill Slavin

Every drive with my dad was a non-stop quiz on the make, model, and year of every car on the road. The '54 Chevy Bel Air at the Danville Car Show this past weekend transported me back to my nine-year-old self, riding shotgun with my dad.

The wind wing was open on both sides, to ventilate my dad's ever-present cigar smoke. We didn't need the windows down. "The wind wing was enough," he said. It wasn't unusual for me to wait in the car, with the cigar in the ashtray, while he did a quick errand. Lots of smoke. It wouldn't pass muster today.

I grew up in cigar smoke. I was shocked to discover in college that smoking a cigar is nothing like smelling the aroma. Smoking, for me, was disgusting, though I really tried to make it work during my college years. Yet, I still find the aroma pleasant even today. (Just don't smoke one in my car!)

My dad was a Buick man. Middle of the road--not too aggressive like a Chevy--and not as ostentatious as an Oldsmobile, and never a Cadillac. The Buick had an understated business-like class.

My dad was always on the road as a sales engineer for General Electric and the Buicks were upgraded every few years. The local dealer would leave a new car in the driveway and ask my dad to give it a try and let him know what he thought. "Take your time. No rush."



Photo by Bill Slavin


One of my chores was to keep the Buick clean and waxed. This often included removing the disgusting black oil that was regularly sprayed on our road in Decatur, Illinois. First, I cleaned off the road oil,  then two coats of wax, then I cleaned the windows to remove cigar film.

Removing road oil became an opportunity for me to earn extra money around our neighborhood. I learned how to remove the black gunk with generous amounts of turpentine and brisk rubbing--a dirty and arduous process--especially around the wheels. Then, I would clean and wax the bottom panels to their deep, rich, original color. It was hard work that generally took several hours but the results were brilliant.

Then it was hard for the customer (always a neighbor) to decline a wax job on the entire car. It would not look good to have the underside shining and the top...not so much. I don't remember how much I was paid, but it always required the customer to think real hard before reluctantly saying yes to the cleaning...and then checking often on my progress. I was thrilled to get paid for what I did at home for free.

Those neighbors were probably playing with me, now that I think of it. Waxing was fun for me because it was so easy, and I could see the result immediately. Every car glowed. I still enjoy waxing a car myself.


Do these photos trigger any car memories for you? I would love to hear your thoughts.


Photo by Bill Slavin



Click here to see all of Bill's car photos  



Friday, July 15, 2022

HISTORY AND ART ON A HALF-INCH RECTANGLE

 


Stamps, like National Geographic magazine with its distinctive yellow cover and encyclopedias, used to be prized by families. We had a stack of the magazine in our home that we could all browse through to learn about other cultures. We had two sets of encyclopedias and my sister and I had stamp albums to be filled with stamps from all over the world.

I would leaf through magazines as a kid seeking the ad section with postage stamp sellers' sites. I could buy an envelope of worthless stamps that I could adhere to my album pages. I found the stamps fascinating because they gave me a little bit of each country's history in a 1/2 to 1-inch rectangle. I could then go to the encyclopedia or the National Geographic magazine to find out more. With the Internet, we have expanded our ability to find this same kind of information. Even the Nat Geo magazine is available on the web.  But what about all the stamps? With people using texting and emails, will we see the end of stamps in our future? Maybe all those worthless stamps I collected will have monetary value after all.



When I was collecting them and found a promising ad in a magazine, I  attached four quarters to a card and sent off my order. I picked up the mail every day in anticipation of receiving my bounty. In the back of my mind was the one valuable stamp that I knew about: The Inverted Jenny, a stamp with an engraver's mistake that put a bi-plane upside down on the stamp. The stamp is now one of the most valuable in the world, last selling for $1.3 million. The Inverted Jenny never arrived in our mailbox, but each stamp that I received opened up another world to me.



I spread the stamps out on a table and looked at the images of queens and kings, presidents and dictators, heroes, and other symbols of the country's history, culture, and economy. Many of the stamps are beautifully designed pieces of art just like the latest stamp to commemorate the passage of Title IX.



I rummaged through the loose stamps, found their correct spot in my album, and attached them to the pages. When I was a teenager though, I closed the album and stuck it in my closet, the album forgotten till we cleaned out our parents' house. I unearthed the stamp book tucked in a box of childhood treasures.



By that time, I had also accumulated U.S. commemorative stamp sets and stamp sets from our time in Japan. I saved them to give to our son. They now sit on a high closet shelf along with my stamp album and the album that belonged to my father-in-law. One of those small bits of family history that is so hard to discard. I kept a few envelopes of duplicate stamps that I use in mixed media art. I stick them randomly on the blank pages of an art journal and then incorporate them into my drawing. Art within art suggests a journey.





https://www.invaluable.com/blog/most-valuable-stamps/

Friday, July 8, 2022

SOME OF US CHANGE



Watercolor gets me in its clutches sometimes, rattles me around, turns me upside down, and fills me with doubts. I recently looked at a painting I did when I first came back to practicing watercolors. I thought to myself: this looks better than what I am doing now. Once I let go of that drop-into-a-big-hole thought, I went through my portfolio and picked out pieces that I still like -- no matter when I created them.

I built my art skills on a Bauhaus foundation with its simplicity, use of clean lines, bold graphic design, and interesting use of positive and negative space. I designed this poster as a tribute to an Olympian a long time ago.




I have also experimented with an all-over design with one part highlighted to tell the story of the piece. Even with all the busy-ness of the flowers, your eye is drawn to the face in the red square.




I've played with abstract forms, changes in value, and thick and thin lines. I discovered that a circle helps to pull a design together. I use circles often in my work.




I've kept the idea of simplicity as a dominant expression in my art, but I've also experimented with lots of texture as I did in the painting of the boat.







I still think of what I do as practice. I have a lot of different techniques and materials that I can employ.  Arlo Gutherie, who wrote the song Alice's Restaurant during the Vietnam War, continues to sing that tune to appreciative audiences. He says he enjoys singing it because the audience responds so well to the memory of it. I think of the outside world and how it isn't always easy to move forward in your life, to work to change, and continue to grow. I put my brush in my paint and try again.


Friday, July 1, 2022

GOOD THINGS & HOPE

Photos by Bill Slavin

The other day a writer friend sent me a copy of her essay about finding hope at a school graduation. It was beautifully written, published in the Jewish Weekly, and filled me with hope. Children are our hope, aren't they?

Coincidentally for this week's post, I had planned to write about the word Hope after re-reading some of my writings that I included in a sketchbook for the Brooklyn Art Library. I thought once again how often we writers think of similar themes during a week, especially one like last week that has been filled with such controversy and despair and we find stories within ourselves that are uplifting and full of hope.

Since 2017 my thoughts about hope have changed. With the advent of Trump, we, as a country and as a people, have entered into a world far more divisive and extreme. We have become more aware of the underbelly of United States history, and that we are not as exceptional as we have told ourselves we are. We have a core that is hard and cruel but often sprinkled with doses of goodwill. We have yet to address what the promise of America means. When I see young people speaking out, I have hope.


Photos by Bill Slavin


This week I needed to find glimpses of hope. Images such as shimmering sunlight, crayons skipping across the page, a bird flying with twigs in its beak, ready to build a nest, and grass growing in the cracks of pavement reminded me of the meaning of hope. I thought of the joy of several friends and family who have new babies in their lives.

I added one more idea to that list: long marriages. I look across the breakfast table at Bill. We've been married for 51 years. We can still smile at each other. We've been together through medical events, working long hours while acquiring advanced degrees, volunteering at non-profits, and celebrating friendships in Mountain View, Danville, Tokyo, and Paris. We've owned numerous cars including my PT Cruiser and the Blue Bomber, and sailed and skied together. We've jogged through our neighborhoods and met friends for coffee. We spent some of the best years of our lives raising our son, who has grown into a kind, thoughtful person (despite having us as parents!)

We had our ups and downs in our marriage. We learned to adjust to our differing habits and quirks, but we always knew how deep our love for each other has been. We tended two sets of parents through their last days, made decisions about their care, and brought treats to their caregivers since we saw how hard their jobs could be. We gardened, took photographs, drew, painted, and discussed politics and other issues of our day. Sometimes we leave each other messages. We've been married a long time, and are still surprised by how much history we have lived through, and still want to try new things, but we are quieter now. Sitting outside, listening to the chatter and caw of birds, and watching wildlife is a mutual pleasure. In a long marriage, there is always hope.


Photos by Bill Slavin


Four Good Things of Hope:

You can read Meta Pasternak's essay as published in the J Weekly here:

https://jweekly.com/2022/06/15/a-glimmer-of-hope-from-a-diverse-group-of-san-francisco-fifth-graders/

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The organizers of the 2022 international calligraphy conference that was canceled because of COVID, worked with Kuretake, a Japanese art supply company to donate over $22,000 in art supplies in part to David Douglas High School in Portland, Oregon. It has the largest student body in Oregon and its students speak over 47 different languages. 

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Watch this video from Holstee showing how to make a letterpress poster with a polymer plate. The poster is Holstee's manifesto and is worth reading:

https://www.holstee.com/products/rainbow-manifesto-poster?_kx=trMJcy4rRkN65LGzwbJoCMvh14xRtm02wQ2JUELpeyQ%3D.c2MSrU#watch-making

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Check out the sketchbooks at the Brooklyn Art Library and help them recover from a disastrous fire:

https://brooklynartlibrary.org


Friday, June 24, 2022

LOOKING FOR A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE

Three-story view of the Napa River

Sometimes when I start to read a book, I realize I'm in the presence of a better-than-good writer.  I can't say that about every book I've ever read, but the word choices made by extraordinary writers pull me into their writing and I spend time outside my own life in their universe. As I read along, I find myself thinking of ways to attempt to write in a similarly profound way.

This happened to me recently as I read Margaret Renkl's memoir, Late Migrations. She mixed her family history with her discovery as a child of the natural world. She writes about cats with such detail, that it made me envision our own cat flicking her tail back and forth in anger or licking my hand gently to encourage more petting, or hearing her slight murmur when I enter a room she is lying in, or just my seeing her front paws near my face as she stands at attention next to me while I do my floor exercises in the morning. 

Renkl's description of herself from a childhood photo made me think of a photo of me dressed in my summer romper, ignoring the toys strung across the hood of the carriage I was sitting in, looking eager to get out and already impatient with a camera in my face. 

I think of our neighborhood now when I read about Renkl's childhood home in the outer suburbs of Tennessee. She spent time in the woods discovering about life outside. We live in a well-manicured suburb, but we are right next to a wild place with a creek running behind some of the houses. A bobcat with its long legs and black-tipped pointed ears loped across our street into our neighbor's backyard and down to the creek the other day. The creek runs with water most of the year and is filled with fallen trees, rocks, and places for deer and other wild things to hide in the cool shade.


Bobcat sketches drawn from Internet images  Cats are hard to draw & pencil works best for me


Do you have favorite writers who can evoke such a place in your mind that you feel you are a part of their world? I can think of Robert MacFarlane and Joyce Carole Oates, two writers who look at the world from unique points of view. MacFarlane writes of his journeys into the wildest places and Oates, a prolific author, wrote an essay, They All Just Went Away, about her childhood as she, like Renkl, wandered alone in the woods near her home. She ventured into abandoned buildings, and described them in her writing, but also found a writing theme in their decay.

Good reads for summer: These books come from my tendency to pick up any book about living with nature, mysteries based during the 1930s and WW I and II, and books about the wisdom I've found from older writers who write about the changes in life as they get older. Diana Athill's book, Somewhere Towards the End, started me on that pursuit.



Just in case the book titles are hard to see:
The Hawk's Way by Sy Montgomery
Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon
Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl
The One Hundred Years of Linni & Margot by Marianne Cronin
Hammer to Fall by John Lawton
Billy Boyle by James R. Benn


Read Joyce Carole Oates's essay here:

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1995/10/16/they-all-just-went-away

You can find Margaret Renkl's essays here:

https://www.nytimes.com/column/margaret-renkl