Tranformative

Transformative is a word that implies a great shift brought on by incidents, occurrences or actions in one’s life. I sometimes also hear the word pivotal used interchangeably. I’ve been thinking about these words quite a bit lately, increasingly so over the last 6 months.

I just got back from a month long vacation (and I use the term loosely because it was a mix of business and pleasure) but it was a fun road trip. Remarkably, it was such an incredible aggregate of impactful moments that it may take quite some time to process. Generally speaking, we can only hope to retain and process some of what happens in our life and when moments come too fast and furiously, it can be overwhelming.

Before I left I had friends say that this trip may well be transformative for me. I assumed they were referring to my work and I can now agree. However, I have to expand on that endorsement with what else I am noticing.

I’ve had the month to think about each of the moments as they occur and try to digest and sort them for a later, deeper evaluation. As we moved from state to state I took pictures for later. We went to galleries and art museums and saw scenery that was different from what I was used to. At one point I began to paint oil studies of what I was seeing as well.

What I realized is that almost every event in our lives is transformative. Each step we take is pivotal. What I think we tend to do is we live our lives in a mode more rooted in survival than in experience, and in doing that we miss the importance of the details. We know major events can be life-changing but somehow we learned to rank all of the small steps and small decisions as inconsequential. Every moment of every day of our lives is transformative, or has the potential to be. We pride ourselves with just being able to field, deflect or avoid harm when in fact they, too, are transformative moments.

Perhaps these moments are just noticeable to us in retirement because of the change in speed that we now experience and are more aware of the small events that could be important. Because of the perfect storm of retirement’s awakening and the ability to start rebuilding schedules, assign different values to moments, and even the luxury of being able to note, process, and implement change within ourselves. We are more aware of what each small moment is teaching us. Transformative actually means reawakening and allowing all of the micro workings of your life – body and soul now reunited fully – to reset.

Yes, this vacation was transformative because I realized what it truly meant to retire. It’s not just about free time, coffee and jammies, or making rent. It is about tabala rasa… but, you get to bring your accumulated tool kit with you. Now I can allow myself to relearn what is important from the granular to the monumental. I am filled with gratitude. I am flooded with joy. I am aware of a growing sense of love and peace. I can be overwhelmed with thankfulness when I’m handed that cup of coffee, I am hugged tightly by a friend, I see a sunset, or even feel changes in temperature eddying in each breeze.

Now that I am home and at my easel I will be sourcing the photos I took and working my way though the visual impact as well as the emotional and intellectual impacts of the last month. I offer you this 16″ x 20″ oil on canvas of the sunset over the Gulf waters in Florida.

Simply Thankful.

We all have so much to be thankful for. I know that each one of us could list things that we are thankful for and find worthy of celebrating. For some it may include the people in our lives; for others it may be prized possessions, or food, or a home, or warmth, or employment, or health. All are worthy blessings, to be sure. Sometimes, however, we get lost in a process of ranking them in an order from what we consider the most splendid to the most mundane, using criteria rooted in guilt, or monetary value, or social status.

When we gather with others we may start recounting the recent vacations, or big work accomplishments, or valuable material items we acquired recently. We proudly add home and family to the list. Does our car measure up? Is this party impressive? Did we feel the need to one-up someone in conversation?

Did I lift up what I know are my real blessings when I was asked?

It is harder and yet so very important to look at something that doesn’t make the top 5 grandious cut and realize it is that small and subtle and seemingly insignificant thing that is the real object worthy of thanksgiving.

The things that are truly important are often the intangible and simple ones like love and peace and joy. Finding these things in our surroundings regardless of how humble, and in the people around us no matter how quiet, are the real blessings in our lives.

As we drove home on Thanksgiving Day after a truly wonderful meal with warm and loving family, I found myself looking over at my husband and the tranquil landscape through the window beside him. The sun was already below the horizon line and the light was peaceful and subtle. It was not a glamorous sunset. There were no fancy fields or lovely farmsteads right there. I saw no dramatic silhouetted trees against the fading light. What I saw was the simplicity of the day’s end and the whispered, peaceful prayer of Thanksgiving for the day. What I was seeing was overwhelmingly beautiful.

I’ve tried to capture that image for you on this 16″ x 20″ oil on canvas. I am not ashamed to say that I have fallen quite short of that goal but I feel better for having tried. I had planned to have fancy sales for black Friday or small business Saturday but for this moment I’m OK with my choice to sit at the easel for both days. I hope you did have some fun and added to your list of blessings through these holidays, and that maybe you even supported a small business.

I pray peace to you all and may your blessings be plentiful and ranked first by the joy they bring your heart.

Think deeply, consider carefully, and then act.

Thresholds come periodically in all of our lives and always prompt a blend of excited anticipation, subtle terror, and steeled resolve. The next threshold has been stepped over and it is time to act.

I must now reconsider and make adjustments to all of the things that impact my personal life directly or indirectly. It may be an action that impacts someone I care about deeply, or someone I may never know. It may involve my material wealth or my moral currency or my physical wellbeing. It will likely involve these, and more.

So knowing that time is upon me, I will sit quietly, and think deeply. I will consider carefully, and make my choices. Choices for myself. Choices for my family. Choices for my community. Choices for my country. I am ready. I am strong. It is time to be fearless.

Today’s painting is a 5″ x 7″ oil on canvas board entitled “Contemplation with a Cordial Sunset.”

Like a monarch on the late summer breeze.

I feel the air lifting me and see my perspective change. I can’t say it’s unsettling. On the contrary, muscle memory is taking over and apparently I have flown before … a long time ago.

September sailed past and I have been remarkably busy. Events came and went and I was aware that somewhere during the last 40 years I became more reticent to act impulsively. Perhaps it’s the effects of the structure of long term employment or it’s as simple as acquired habits, but I am winnowing and choosing to regain my healthy sense of self.

I did an art fair in Freeport, Illinois – an upper midwestern town that I went to high school in. It was a merging of various times of my life as I ran into old friends I hadn’t seen since high school, met new patrons who had never seen my work before, and welcomed current friends who popped in to give me support because they know that I am an emerging artist despite my age. It was such a mix of emotions and insecurities and surging inner-strength, that it was startling.

It, like each of the events that have been taking place recently, had its unique role in this new rediscovery phase of my life where all of my pieces are starting to come back together.

With very little break between events, we then unpacked the Art from the fair and repacked for a history event in Platteville, Wisconsin where I talked about a different era in art. I went from 21st century emerging artist to 18th century cottage industry artist without missing a beat.

The children on school days that Friday numbered in excess of 2300 and the public the next day were interested and excited and asked great questions about art in the 18th century. It is always an absolute joy to see the fascination on the face of a child when they see someone in this historical context talking about art. They are curious as to where artists got their pigments, tools, and how they did things back then. As I talk about being an artist and see the hope that it gives them to know that they, too, can be one, I soar.

Each one of these events was fascinating, stimulating, and challenging both emotionally and intellectually, and yet I am having a ball!! True, I need to slow this pace down before I burst into flames but I feel like I am doing what that old adage says about sliding over home plate in a cloud of dust and exclaiming, “… heck of a ride…”. Indeed!

As I watched the sun setting in my rear view mirror coming home from this last, weeklong, historical teaching event in Minnesota I was absolutely enthralled and wonder what life has in store for us next.

Walking Serendipitously.

Retirement – what a wonderful new adventure. After years, or perhaps even decades of living a very prescribed life with all of its security and predictability, I have launched into a new adventure that feels more dependent on the fluidity of a moment. It sounds exciting, but I have decades of habits in place and it can be pretty unnerving to feel so little control over the path ahead when derailment can lurk at each turn.

I have always enjoyed the notion of the phrase, “all who wander are not lost” but maybe it was the militant declaration I actually loved. Suddenly, I find myself asking what that actually means? If I don’t have a map I feel lost. I plan and list and run scenarios and make contingency plans and habitually over-think. It is exhausting.

These last couple of months, however, I am also beginning to understand the benefit of letting go. I wasn’t always so plan heavy and can vaguely remember my early 20s when I was driven by discovery and celebrated the surprise benefits of living in the moment. I wasn’t afraid to turn on a dime and head a new direction knowing that all of the possibilities had the potential to be wonderful. It was exhilarating and imbued with hope. That is the wander!

I can feel change happening. I can feel it in my day to day structure as I determine when or IF a plan is needed and I can feel it in my work. It is true that planning is necessary for budgets, for meal planning, for scheduling social events, and more. On the other hand, planning for potential negative scenarios with their probability ranking too low to give any credibility to, is self sabotaging. It will take me a little time to break some seriously bad habits but thankfully the change is already happening.

I have been gifted the opportunity to wander several times these last two months and gratefully, have a husband who is helping me keep the planning more fluid. We are allowing ourselves the flexibility to talk about wants and needs and change our minds as much as we want. We didn’t build in excessive plans and commitments and we enjoyed the simplicity. We found ourselves remembering what we liked and didn’t like about historical reenactments and reaffirm why we continue to do them. It is a gift to be able to look at all kinds of behavior in my life and decide, like I would a poker hand, what should stay and go. Once a person allows themselves the grace to change after objective introspection it begins to pick up speed, and feeds peace.

Throughout this process I have no doubt that it will directly impact my work and I daresay it can only be positive. Last week I began a 16 x 20 oil on canvas of a photo taken of me several years ago. I started to feel uncomfortable with it and realized that I wasn’t fond of the size or layout. I found myself staring at a half done canvas and realized I couldn’t go on. That isn’t unique. What happened next was. I decided that I could choose to change it. Paintings, while in process, aren’t precious! They are merely insight of what is going on in me as I synthesize what I see and should not ever have the power to dictate my actions. This is a breakthrough for me. I decided to take it off the stretcher bars, find an oddball size frame in the basement (I have too many to admit to), and crop this silly thing to see if it’s redeemable. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t but I get to choose.

In the weeks and months ahead I will no doubt continue to evolve and grow and become. I like that idea. We have an art show in Freeport, Illinois next Sunday and several historical events coming later in September as well. It will be good to go into the fall with an open perspective, and even though I don’t know what the future holds for us I am celebrating the growing happiness I feel. I will pop back in here and show you how this painting turned out – actually, it is my intent to be more active here overall.

Letting go of the known, and seeing where the wind takes you.

This month has surprised me.

As the date of my retirement approached (June 30th) I flurried to put work affairs in order; completed tasks, packed my office, and tried to be in as good a place as I could envision myself being. I didn’t get everything done but was assured by my co-worker that there would not be any grudges held for what I didn’t get done. I walked away feeling slightly guilty but thought I was ready for whatever came next. I wasn’t.

It was that moment when you let go of the known and the wind lifts you, and you realize you are airborn. Your flight appears to be somewhere between the flying nun and forest gump’s feather. Someone has cued music and you are fully aware you have absolutely no control. That’s when you realize, or more importantly remember, that God has control… so you take a deep breath… and sail away to your next adventure.

The month has been an unpredictable swirl of occurrences: a quiet stay-at-home 4th of July weekend, a lovely visit with an old friend, 5 days on Madeline Island teaching about early art in America, dinner with another old friend, and a surprise loss of 10 days quarantining with Covid – making me miss a family reunion. I spent my down time trying to get post retirement medical coverage locked in and doing two paintings – a commission work for a friend and one for myself. Whew.

Today is my birthday. I am planning to go out among the population but there’s a week left to the month so I’m checking my seat belt. Retirement is an adventure to be sure, but I’m ready… I think?

Life is not still.

Remaining sufficiently disciplined to be consistently creative while being employed in a different field is a delicate balance that many of us understand. Owning and running a small fine arts business on the side is certainly challenging as well. Doing this while working full time in higher education as a faculty librarian and administrator (the library director) is even more challenging.

Today’s painting is an 11 x 14 oil on canvas called “Life Is Not Still”

I love both environments and professions very much and strongly believe that keeping a strict separation between these two simultaneous careers has been ethically imperative. I also believe that both passions need a full commitment of time, focus, and finance to do them well. Working – and I daresay living – this duality is surprisingly hard to sustain long term, and yet is what circumstances have determined necessary my entire adult life. Now, however, I realize that I am at a point of decision. I am at the diverging road of Robert Frost’s poem.

There are professional affiliations that I must engage with for both careers, and participation in each of them demands serious financial commitments, intense intellectual contributions, notable energy and an active presence. Judiciously choosing even a modest level of participation for each of them can still add up quickly and drain me. Perhaps I could get by with some bare minimum distributed across a broader scale but in good faith, I cannot. When I commit, it is fully.

As I have begun to grow my art business, I have become increasingly aware of the complexity of juggling an overwhelming number of balls in the air. With the art business this involves (aside from making the artwork itself) a demand for participation costs (shooting, jurying, booth, framing, travel and more), calendar deadlines (submit, ship, travel, and the detriment of scheduling errors), and even the aging of each piece to assure currency compliance requirements.

In the past year, I have had some modest success with the sale of several pieces of artwork and for this, I am enormously grateful. I have re-invested the proceeds in much needed technology for the business, in gichlee prints of select work to increase ready cash flow, in expanded affiliations, and now in underwriting entry fees to more competitions than ever before. All are tough decisions that need to be made thoughtfully and strategically and they burn through the profits quickly.

I can feel that tipping point in both the monetary support and the service juxtaposition of my two careers and am aware that a decision must be made to address this bittersweet imbalance of serving two passions effectively, let alone well. It is time for me to choose, and move from that place of transition; to step forward in faith.

After 25 years in my library, I will be retiring this summer from my position as University Library Director to focus on my art fulltime.

Balance of motivations.

I know that sometimes I have to concentrate on painting strategically for the business, and that’s perfectly acceptable. Balance, however, dictates that I also need to paint for the fun of it.

Case in point, I am getting ready for a historical trade fair in March. As a result, I am painting a few historical subjects to complement the theme and timeline of the show, while being mindful of what I can actually fit on my panels in a limited boothspace. Today I finished a painting that can serve both – – it will fit in the theme of the show, but I absolutely loved painting it because the subject is my favorite model.

I think that now I have enough paintings done for that show that I can shift my indulgences again. There are subjects in the wings that were not correct for this event and I’m anxious to paint them. I have a great commission for a warm, midwestern landscape that is set in the 21st century and my patron has been more than patient. I also have a lovely still life photo that just begs to be painted because of the richness of color and texture. It’s all about balance…the balance between painting for the business and painting strictly for my own enjoyment.

I offer you my current painting, an 8″ by 10″ oil on canvas of my husband in his portrayal of an 18th century surveyor, “Polishing Brass”

Choices and Perseverance – and listening for direction.

Every moment, every day, every month, we have thousands of choices that we must make. Some are small and seemingly inconsequential. Some are larger and can impact what tomorrow will bring. Still others can literally change the direction of our life.

Knowing that these choices can carry such radical weight, we can try using our experience to anticipate outcomes and therefore make preparations to increase the probability to make a good choice when the time comes. I know that we cannot guess right all the time, but we can often react to sudden decisions with greater calm and logic when we have spent time preparing in quiet contemplation. Part of that success comes from the balance of staying knowledgeable of ourselves and our circumstances. The other part comes from listening to guidance from the still, small voice… impossible to do if we are not open to the concept of a divine being, or greater forces than ourselves at the very least. This powerful combination of introspection and acknowledgement of an outside influence, helps us face choices with agility, grace, and wisdom.

These last 2 to 3 years have been especially challenging for everyone and I must admit it doesn’t look like it’s going to go back to the simplicity of the way it was any time soon – if ever. Years can appear to be a lifelong crescendo with each year providing its own level of challenge. I remember thinking that it was hard when I was a child. I couldn’t wait to have more control over my choices because I was sure that it would get easier. As I grew into adulthood I realized that each previous time in my life was, in fact, the simpler time and I have come to the realization that the general trajectory was indeed up. Now I look nostalgically at even 4 years ago . . . which felt much easier than today.

The most recent painting is a 20″ x 16″ oil on canvas entitled, “Chaga Harvest”

As I find myself looking forward to each next phase of my life I can find that I am calmer about the escalation than I could have anticipated. I have enjoyed several careers which I have loved very much and throughout them, I have remained a visual artist. I have traveled much of our country, seeing it from air, highway, backroad and wagon trail. I have experienced great joys and great sorrows, the latter brought to bear at the loss of dearest friends, dearest family members, and even dearest dreams. At the moment of impact from each of these milestone moments in our lives we are sorely aware that we could not have predicted appropriately, but we could demonstrate our awareness by walking in grace and faith.

Looking at the beginning of this new year I realize I am farther along in my amazing life path – I dare say closer to the end than the beginning – which puts me in a good position of hindsight to celebrate my life experiences, successes, and overall choices. Looking ahead I see I have no less dreams, passion, or intellect, although perhaps I move a little slower, and am a little more thoughtful. I never got to be a famous artist but consider myself wealthy beyond measure in the commerce that matters, and my art reflects my well traveled road. In the months ahead I will enjoy the now familiar and necessary shifts towards the next stretch in my road and review my travel kit, packed with life experiences, gleaned wisdom, necessary survival tools, and hope. I am excited at the next adventure and find myself listening carefully to the calm guidance of the still, small, voice.