March 12, 2021

Life Lessons from Watercolor Painting

I began drawing and painting when I was young. Art was my first love, even before writing (but only by about a year). My parents were mystified that I could do this - neither of them had an artistic bent, nor did my sister. No one knew where it came from. 

In 4th grade Patty Klenk and I were picked to take part in a citywide program where students from various schools would study at the art museum. I was proud to have been chosen, tho I have no memory of the classes.

Painting at the kitchen table as a teenager.
I knew I had some talent, though I could see there were other students more talented: Patty Klenk, for one, and Janice Wilhem, in grammar school, Judy Norris in high school. In 8th grade we sculpted with clay in art class, and Janice Wilhelm created an incredible woman's head that I can see to this day. Everything about it was remarkable; the hair pulled back in a bun, the nostrils, the lips...I don't remember what I created but it was likely a vase. I know it wasn't close to what Janice created.

In high school Judy Norris did an oil painting of a woman in a wheat field that was remarkable. I realize now that Monet was her inspiration, and she did it in a way that dazzled me. I did a vase with flowers. It didn't dazzle me.

I was always better at oils, acrylics and sketching than watercolor because I liked the preciseness of those mediums. But I have always loved the looseness of watercolor, the elusiveness of it. I love that it's the opposite of precise. I've taken some classes over the years but exactly a month ago I developed a (pandemic) passion for learning watercolor. I've taken Zoom classes, I've watched a gazillion YouTube demos, attended live demos online where you paint along with the artist, I've bought hundreds of dollars worth of supplies, I've bored my Facebook friends with some of my paintings. I felt proud of my early efforts because I was conquering something that eluded me for years. But I knew they weren't my best, not if I kept learning. And I was right.

Watercolor has taught me so much, not just about the medium but about life. Here are the lessons I've learned from watercolor painting:

    Worth another attempt.
  • Patience. I like to start something and finish it in one sitting. You can't do that with watercolor - you have to apply the paint in layers and let it dry in between. 
  • Don't take shortcuts. You can speed up the drying with a hairdryer but it can bake the paper and it will change the result. I learned to let it dry on its own.
  • What I did today won't be what I see tomorrow. When a painting is thoroughly dry it will look very different from how you left it. I have done some work that I thought I would throw away but the next day it had transformed into something beautiful. Watercolor is like that - it surprises you if you give it time.
  • Thoughtfulness. You have to plan your image. You have to decide in what order to add the various values. You have to leave some open spaces and take your time with the rest of it before you add those pieces, so they don't get muddy or contaminate the rest of the color.
  • Look at the world. I find myself studying the world around me more than usual, looking for subjects to paint, studying trees and shrubbery, noticing all the varying shades of color in everything we look at, examining how shadows fall and what color they are. And more. I find I do this with photography as well, seeing things through the camera lens and how it will be perceived. Now, I look to see how I can interpret it in watercolor. The world is presented in a new light because I am painting.
  • Maybe I will try again, maybe not.
    Once is not enough. When it's not, it's okay to do it again. Sometimes it takes 2 or 3 or more
    attempts to create a painting that reflects what's in my head. I may not like everything in my first attempt , tho as I said earlier it often looks better the next day. If it doesn't match my vision of it I can do it again. And again. I
    kind of like to see the progression of those paintings.
  • Be brave. When I start a new painting I mostly sketch it out in pencil first. Sometimes I might go over it again in ink, if ink and watercolor is the technique I'm using. Regardless, when I'm happy with the sketch I often find myself waiting a day or two before beginning to fill it in with watercolor and I realized it's because I'm afraid I'm going to ruin it. But then I sit down and begin. Sometimes I do ruin it, and that's too bad, but often it can be fixed. Or it becomes something I wasn't planning but something I still like.
    And my favorite so far,
    yet I'm still making another attempt.
So many lessons. Isn't it interesting how applicable these lessons are to writing (to any creative endeavor really) and to life? 

It's unfortunate I didn't develop this passion earlier. Better late than never, right?

February 22, 2021

Movie Review: Nomadland *****

is a quiet, gracefully-told story of Fern (Frances McDormand in what's sure to be an award-winning performance) whose husband has died and the town they lived in for 30 years no longer exists because the major employer folded, (the zip code was actually retired). 

Fern has lost everything. She buys a van, packs up some meager belongings and takes to the road, working various jobs in various places and finding a community of others who live this nomadic lifestyle. These are not people traveling in tricked-out 30 ft. Winebagos, they travel and live in rundown vans or trucks, one woman in a Prius. A Prius

Director ChloĆ© Zhao loves to use real people in her movies and this one is no exception. A number of the nomads play themselves but you would not know they're not professional actors. What a wonderful cast it is. 

Because of that, and because of McDormand's subtle, authentic performance (also David Straithairn's), the film has a wonderful documentary feel to it. You get to know these people and their motivation for this lifestyle, and gave me a glimmer of understanding for a lifestyle I have no comprehension of. 

It's a film with much empathy and respect, a beautiful piece of work.

5 out of 5 stars for Nomadland.

February 9, 2020

Hoping for an Oscar Upset

I'm hoping for two Oscar upsets tonight, one in the Best Actor category and one for Best Picture.
First, I'm hoping for Adam Driver to win Best Actor because his performance in Marriage Story is so raw and powerful and authentic. It's so real it feels as though we're watching a documentary.
Joaquin Phoenix, they say, is a shoe-in, and his performance in Joker is excellently creepy, something he does better than anyone, but it's not as good as Adam Driver's performance, in my humble opinion.
Scarlett Johannson, by the way, is also really good in Marriage Story, but her performance feels more uneven to me.
Now here's the strange part: I saw Marriage Story when it was first released in November and was in theaters for about 10 minutes, and when I told people about it later I said that Adam Driver was phenomenal but the movie was long and boring, just two people talking. I was definitely a thumbs down. But it haunted me and for some reason I thought I'd like it more on a second viewing. So I watched it on Netflix. It was amazing. Yes, it's long, yes it's two people talking (actually a few more than two - I also love Laura Dern's performance and Azhy Robertson's as the child of this failing marriage), but it's a gorgeously-written story. I love how it begins, and how it circles back to that in the end, I love how real it feels, I love how we get to see each character's perspective and how you go back and forth in your sympathies. I love how it ends...
How did I miss all this the first time? Who knows; sometimes it's your mood, sometimes it's who you're with, what's going on that day...whatever.
I'm glad I watched it again and I encourage you to as well.
It's not likely to win tonight, not in either category, but my fingers are crossed.

January 31, 2020

The Hole My Father Left

Today, January 31, 2020, I'm remembering my dad who I lost 20 years ago. He left a big hole in my life, one that will never be filled but one I've learned to live with. Into that hole I've put his smile and his pride in me, along with his kindness, generosity and honor, his corny sense of humor, all his bowling trophies (whew! those are heavy!), his warmth and love of family. I put his wisdom in there, and his advice, even the advice I poo-poo'd and ignored. What's taking up the most room in that hole, though, is his unconditional love.


December 13, 2019

Traveling Solo, inspired by Ann Garvin

My post is inspired by this one from Ann Garvin:

A Quick Question. I Need Some Tips

Quick question. Who here has gone on vacation entirely alone? No conference or professional meeting to take up your time, no friend waiting at the airport to whisk you off for a chat. Alone. Alone. I’m asking about solo traveling. Sacajawea without the hangers-on, Lewis and Clarke. Amelia Earhart without the scary flying goals. Just you with your kit-bag and a smile. I'm asking because I need tips. READ THE REST OF ANN'S POST

Here you go, Annie, here's why you should embrace solo traveling:

I travel solo all the time. Well, not ALL THE TIME because really…I do have some friends. We never wear matching T-shirts, though, and don’t even ask me to do that (you'll have to read Ann's post to see what that's about). 
When I'm telling someone about one of my trips and they ask, "Who did you go with?", I say, "I went alone," and they say, "Like, on a tour?" and I say, "No, just me, with myself, unattached, unescorted." They just don't know how to respond to that.  
Sometimes I do go on tours. The problem with tours is there are other people on them. That's not always a bad thing, it's just that there's so much pressure to be sociable. If you're a single woman traveling solo, other people, especially women traveling in twos or threes, are anxious to include you. They think you probably want that, that being with people is everyone's preference. Most folks don't get the concept of actually liking to be by yourself.
When people hear that I travel solo they call me courageous, fearless, defiant, adventurous. It's none of those things, it's fantastic! Here are some reasons why: 

  • You meet people you would never meet when traveling with another person. I was in
    Frankfurt once, heading to a bike tour (yes, a tour) in Switzerland. I spent a couple days in Frankfurt, alone. I went to lunch one day and was seated at a table outside, by myself. I ordered my food and then, as often happens in Europe, the hostess brought someone to sit at my table. We acknowledged each other briefly and then went about our business. Later, when he heard me speaking English to the waitress, he struck up a conversation and after lunch he took me on a tour of his city. That's all, really, just a tour. It was great.
  • In her post Ann says she felt obvious. Maybe I felt that way, too, in the beginning, but soon you stop noticing if people are looking at you. Or maybe you still notice, you just don't care. Maybe you smile at them. Maybe you don't. It feels so normal to me now. Perhaps people feel sad when they see me alone in a restaurant or a museum or a movie theater but I would have to say, save your feelings for the state of our country or world hunger, because I am happy as a clam. 
  • You never have to force conversation with someone boring and self-centered. Unless you want to.
  • If you go to a play or a concert and you don't like it you can just leave. You don't have to wait for the intermission to say, "What do you think?" and have someone else say, "I don't know. What do you think?" Or if you both agree it's not the best thing you've ever seen then you have to negotiate whether or not to leave: "I don't know, maybe the second act will be better." "I don't know, it got four stars, there has to be something good about it," and on and on. Traveling alone? Just get up and go. Yay!
  • If you go to a museum and you get bored you can cut your visit short without feeling guilty. And you won't have to wait, tapping your foot, while your companion admires glass case after glass case of Chinese pottery or ancient Greek masks.
  • You can get everything in a carry-on no matter how long you're gone because you can take one outfit and wear it every day. Who will know?
  • If you waste an entire day sleeping or watching movies in your hotel room rather than going to visit the approximately 1000 things to do in this wonderful city, no one will nag you to get the hell up and get dressed. 
  • No one will be snoring in the bed next to you.
  • Best of all, you don't have to wear matching T-shirts with your travel companion(s). Ann.

November 23, 2019

The First Deep Breath - Theatre Review ***

The First Deep Breath, the world premiere at Victory Gardens Theatre, is an ambitious work with a whole host of messages. So many, in fact, that it takes 3 hours and 45 minutes to impart them. Way, way, way too long.
Playwright Lee Edward Colston II says his play is in the style of August Wilson, Eugene O'Neill and Tracy Letts. Mighty heady company to keep. By, "in the style," he must be saying that the theme of this play is a dysfunctional family (is there any other kind?), and that's fair, but the writing is not exactly in that style. Maybe Colston's work will, some day, be on par with those writers but he will need to learn to dial it back a bit, and trust his audience as those playwrights do.
The First Deep Breath is about a black family in Philadelphia, apparently well-off judging by their home which appears to be large, with many levels and elegant furniture, yet they lament money troubles and speak ghetto (with poetic interludes), which doesn't feel authentic to their situation. It feels as if the set designer did not read the script or speak to the playwright or the director. Are they ghetto? Are they upper middle class? To my mind they are not both. 
There is grief and betrayal, dishonesty, motherhood out of wedlock, a prison conviction, hidden sexuality, deceit, Alzheimer's, forgiveness, punishment, mistreatment, resentment...I'm not finished, there's more, something for everyone and then some, but I'll stop here. 
It was engaging enough to sit through the first two acts (there were two intermissions which gave me the opportunity to skip out, but I stayed). The performances were wonderful and the characters were ones I wanted to learn more about and who I became invested in. But then there's the third act. I wish the playwright had quit while he was ahead. Or that I had, and left at that second intermission. The final act builds and builds and builds to a crescendo of craziness that stretches credulity.
Mr. Colston would do well to study August Wilson, Eugene O'Neill and Tracy Letts a little further if he wants to compare his work to theirs.
Three out of five stars for The First Deep Breath.

October 28, 2019

Can 257,901 People Be Wrong?

Last time I checked 257,901 people on GoodReads had given Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens 5 stars. Can all those people be wrong? That would be crazy, right? 
So let's not use the word 'wrong.' But really, I am completely baffled.
In the beginning I was engaged and thought the writing was lovely. And then as the pages wore on it seemed the author became more interested in finding new ways to describe things than in telling the story, and so it went on and on with pages of tedious description, quotes from nature books, poetry, etc.
I am a writer. I'm not well-known, I don't have a NY Times best seller, but I am published. I write and read and study writing continuously. So when I read there's a little critique going on in my head. When something annoys me or pulls me out of the story I highlight it so I know not to do that in my own work.
Here are things I highlighted in this book (they became more frequent as I continued on and by the end I was skipping large passages):
1. The book is written in the point of view of Kya but every once in a while it switches POV, out of the blue, to explain something.
2. Then, about 1/4 of the way in there is even an omniscient narrator (another POV) who tells the story of Kya's parents. Annoying.
3. Another POV switch to explain why Tate never came back. Again, jarring, pulling me out of the story. It could be explained later when he returns.
4. Then, it all of a sudden changes to present tense, when all along (and through the rest of the book) it is past tense.

                                                    WHERE IS HER EDITOR, FOR GOD'S SAKE?

5. There are long passages from the nature articles Kya pours over, because even though she did not learn to read until she was a teenager, she suddenly is reading scientific materials. I am not interested in those passages, and they don't move the story along.
6. She goes to the library to request those scientific books (let me just say her sudden knowledge is a huge credibility stretch) and the librarian offers to get them for her. How do you get a library card if you live in a marsh and have no i.d. and no address?
7. Then, guess what? She writes a nature book and gets it published. Talk about a suspension of disbelief. And then at some point she gets a check for $5000 from her publisher. She could not receive a check from a publisher without having a completed W9 which would require a social security number. She continues to get substantial checks, so let's just say that COULD happen - how would she cash them? She has no bank account.
8. When she fixes up her shack (which she's lived in her whole life without toilet facilities or heat or running water or a place to plug in her blow-dryer) and puts in running water and electricity, did she get permits? Does her contractor just come in and jury-rig all the utilities?
9. She orders stuff from the Sears catalog. With what?
I could go on...
The last 1/4 of the book is tedious and repetitive with much unnecessary description. And then I kept thinking I'd reached the end and I'd be so relieved, and then I'd turn the page and it would just continue on.
The trial scene, in particular, could be cut entirely. There's nothing new or revelatory there. It's predictable and mind-numbing.
Ok, I'm done.
Books are subjective, we all know that. But I can't believe 257,901 people could be so wrong.