A Walk on the Wild Side – For People Who Love Addicts

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A few years ago I started an anonymous blog with the above title to talk about addiction. About trying to help a grown son addicted to heroin. when I did not believe he, nor I, would survive his addiction. Here’s part of my first blog post:

Addiction, as horrible as it is for addicts, can be terrifying to those who love them as well.  Like it or not, if we choose to be in their lives and support them while they fight this cruel affliction, we’re taking a walk on the wild side, going places emotionally and spiritually, and sometimes even physically, that are dark and scary.

And often we’re alone.

Too often when all hell breaks loose, and the dust settles, one lone family member is left standing to walk this scary path alone with their loved one.  Most others get blown away, or turn away, or run away eventually.  But a mom, a dad, a sister, a lover–hopefully for the addict’s sake, one of us remains behind.  One of us stays by their side all the long, and wild, and weary, and heart-breaking way.

I’ve been there, and maybe you have too.

I started the blog not long after I wrote a post on this site about finding him OD’d on the bathroom floor, gray and apparently lifeless.

This post was followed shortly by another when we could not find a rehab that would take him in. It begins:

The last few posts I’ve tried to write, again and again, disintegrated into dark rants and rages.

Rants against a society that fully recognizes how an epidemic of addiction is destroying our children, our families, whole neighborhoods and cities, filling our jails and prisons, and littering our streets and alleys with the living dead. And yet, and yet, how this same society provides painfully few resources toward treatment and recovery. A son or daughter seeking a bed at a detox center is forced to wait months for something affordable or dole out thousands of dollars for a few short days, only to be turned out onto the street again when the stay is ended.

Rages against the fact that the few available programs designed to help recovering addicts will bankrupt most families, since the road to recovery, as all admit, includes multiple relapses. But instead of sticking with those who relapse, helping them when they most need support, these programs kick them out on the streets again. With no place to go, to start over again and again and again, with no end in sight.

Not long after that post he disappeared. He’d finally gotten into another rehab, but they kicked him out when he relapsed. He was lost on the street again, and I was giving up hope. That’s when I started the new anonymous blog, to vent, to rage. It was right after receiving this phone call, which I write about in my second post:

The last time I heard from him he told me he didn’t think he had long to live. He’d had two overdoses the week before. One where he woke up in the hospital. The other where he woke up in a motel room. His companions had left him for dead after stealing the little he had (a bike and a backpack stuffed with dirty clothes) and even the shoes off his feet. He was barefoot when he called, using someone else’s phone. He’d lost his own weeks ago (again).

I begged him to get help, to go an NA meeting, go to a church, go to a detox facility, go to a shelter. But he was too embarrassed. He was covered in staff infections, he said, and he looked like a zombie.

I’d seen him that way before. I knew what he meant.

I begged him to go to an ER and get medication for the staff infection. Then I gave him the address and phone number of a detox, and told him to get there. He said he would. But it didn’t sound like he meant it.

“Say it,” I told him. “Say it like you mean it.”

“Promise me,” I demanded. “If you don’t want to die, promise me.”

“I feel like I’m dead already,” he said. “Like I’m in Limbo, you know? Or purgatory. Everything seems so surreal, like I’m walking around in a nightmare.”

The good news is that the police picked him up shortly after that phone call and that saved his life, I’m sure. His road to recovery was difficult, which I detail on my blog. But he did arrive. And he’s three years clean and doing great. My son was saved, but so many have lost their lives to addiction, or are struggling still.

One of my posts was Freshly Pressed because it spoke to so many people about the manic ride the lovers of addicts take in trying to help their loved ones. It was called “Am I crazy? Or Is He? How Addiction Warps Us.”

In it I write about three stages of living with an addict which I named: Hyper-Happy, Dangerously Depressed, and Mad Maniac.

 It’s the old pattern re-emerging, the way it’s played out too many times before. The crazy times, I think of them. That’s why this Hyper-Happy son makes me want to cry, because it reminds me of those times. Episodes of my life that are so bizarre and unbelievable, remembering them is like re-living a nightmare, or being in some alternate universe where crazed people do crazy things to survive and to save the ones they love.

I’ve never told anyone about those crazy times in my life. The things I’ve seen and done and endured, trying to help him.

During those days it was as if I lived in a secretive, shadowy world where I became someone no one would recognize. On the surface I was the same old person everyone knew–quiet, responsible, reasonable. But when I walked on the wild side of addiction with my son, I was anything but that.

I think that’s why I started this blog. Why I named it what I did. Not, as I had thought, had hoped, so I could sort things out and figure out a way to save my son. I want that too. I want that badly. But I think the real reason I created this blog was so I finally could let it all out. All the craziness I experienced. Bring it to the surface, look at it in the light of day.

To bring that craziness out into the light of day . . . . Some of the craziness I wrote about on that blog, like the one called Pimping My Son. But the worst of the craziness has never seen the light of day.

The novel From the Far Ends of the Earth that I hope to publish soon throws light on a lot that would like to remain in darkness. Especially on that twisted and dark, love-strangle that exists between an addict and the one who is determined to save him despite himself.

The novel is fiction but it draws upon a deep experiential understanding of the complexity of addiction. It exposes what I call in the novel “the ugly underbelly of mother love,” as seen mostly through the eyes of the son, as shown here:

She’d become the object of his self-loathing, the mirror against which he throws all his plates, watching them splinter against her face and slide to the floor, all his messes splattered over her. And still she’d stand there, watching him, sometimes dissolving into tears, or raging in fury, or stony with disgust, but never backing away from the ferociousness of his attacks. Standing her ground and taking it, bearing it, never retreating from his touch—unwavering, resolute.

 The rage was okay.  It was the tears that unmanned him. That killed him time and time again until he had to make it stop. Had to make her face the truth, that her tears were wasted on him, that he was a miserable fuckin’ asshole who didn’t deserve her love. And he’d prove it by ripping out her heart and holding it up for her to see, until her tears finally did dry up in a rage that blew him away with its ferocity. A rage he fed with little bits of her heart and his heart until she fuckin’ wanted to kill him and would too, if he didn’t dance out of her way, laughing at her rage, her inept, futile rage, which didn’t do either of them a bit of good. Except in stopping the tears.  Neither she nor he could survive the tears.

It’s something he ponders but cannot fathom, the depth and folly of her mother-love. The obstinacy that thwarts his every attempt to shake it loose, even while he tests it mercilessly, uses it shamelessly, depends upon it endlessly—and wears it like ball and chain, like an indictment stamped on his forehead: his total unworthiness of her unwavering love.

There is light as well as darkness in the novel, more light than dark, I believe. People struggling with addiction or struggling to help loved ones will find something here that may be helpful, or at least hopeful, or if nothing else, a mirror that reflects back what too many of us have hidden away in our hearts for too long.

But the novel isn’t only about addiction. Art and art-making play starring roles too. And finding love, romantic and otherwise.

And coming home to ourselves. More than anything, it’s about that.

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Shogun VS. Lincoln in the Bardo

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Oak Hill is the setting for a book inspired by a poignant time in Abraham Lincoln’s life.

I have two books on my nightstand, Shogun by James Clavell and Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. Both are historical novels, the first an epic adventure story set in feudal Japan in the 1600’s, the second a literary novel centering around the death of President Lincoln’s son, Willie. Both are highly acclaimed.

I began reading them around the same time. The first is 1210 pages, the second 342. Guess which I finished first? Yes, Shogun.

This surprises and disappoints me in some ways. But perhaps it shouldn’t. I had resisted buying, let along reading Bardo, for a long time, despite the fact I’m a huge Saunders’ fan. I fell in love with his short stories in The Tenth of December, especially the title piece and “Victory Lap,” which I wrote about in The Light-Craving Stories of George Saunders.

The reason I resisted reading his first novel, even though  I had read so many ecstatic reviews of the work, was because it just sounded so dark and somber. This despite knowing what a wild sense of humor Saunders has and how “heart-searing and heart-soaring” his light-emitting stories can be, as I had written earlier.

Still. The setting, a graveyard? Inhabited by souls lost in Limbo? A dead boy? A grieving father? I felt the ratchets of my mind closing down one by one: resist, resist, resist.

I’ve already written in my last post how a resisting reader almost always dooms a piece of writing. Here it wasn’t the writer I was resisting. I already knew the pleasures of reading Saunders. It was the subject matter I was resisting (as it was, come to think of it, in the Outlander example I wrote about in my last post.)

On the other hand, I came to Shogun, not as a new reader, as I’d already had the pleasure of reading the book 20 years ago or so. I already knew what to expect, but I was curious to see if it would still draw me in and keep my interest so many years later.

What I was really looking for, I believe now, was a book to binge on, like the series I liked to watch on TV–Game of Thrones, The Last Kingdom, Downton Abbey–with characters I cared about, and plot-lines that drew me deeper and deeper into the story. A ship-wrecked sailor cast upon shores of Feudal Japan had the potential to do that. A dead boy in Limbo, not so much.

So does it all just boil down to what kind of mood I’m in? Perhaps. But even more, it comes down to that ever-enduring quint-essential question that all writers, and all publishers, I dare say, grapple with: what keeps the reader turning pages and wanting more?

In Shogun I immediately became caught up in the plight of the sailor and the culture crash when West met East for the first time. I was caught up in the game-of-thrones-type warfare and strategic plotting that was taking place between the Lord Toranaga and his rival feudal lords. I was caught up in the tender and precarious relationship developing between Anjin-san, the ship-wrecked sailor, and his beautiful and wise translator, Marika. It wasn’t that I wanted to find out what was going to happen next. I knew that already. It was just because it was all so fascinating, and deep enough and rich enough that I felt well fed, and yet still craved for more. I’ve already started on the next book in Clavell’s Asian series, each book taking place a generation of so after the other.

But while I found the historical excerpts about President Lincoln and the loss of his son quite interesting, and I was amused and delighted by the array of misfit lost souls inhabiting the graveyard, and deeply touched by the young boy finding himself stranded between worlds while his hapless grief-stricken father holds his now lifeless body in his arms, I was not compelled to find out “what happens next.” The writing was deep enough and rich enough to make me feel well-fed, but not enough to make me crave more–to keep turning pages.

It’s a different kind of story, of course, and is meant to be. In so many ways comparing Bardo with Shogun is like comparing apples and oranges. The first is meant to “capture the pathos of everyday life,” as  Michiko Kakutani wrote in a New York Times review . Or as Saunders himself wrote in an email interview with The New York Times Book Review, to elucidate “that terrible conundrum: We seem to be born to love, but everything we love comes to an end. What do we do with that?”

Bardo is meant to make us ponder the deep, disturbing questions about life, and to deepen our capacity to have compassion for each other, to show us how, as I wrote before, that in the end, “when all the superficiality and fears and meanness are flayed from us, beneath that, we are light-craving creatures: people who are starving for the want of goodness, the want of grace in our lives.”

Bardo‘s purpose, perhaps, is to deepen our understanding of the human condition, first, and to entertain, second. While Shogun’s purpose, perhaps, is the other way around. But deepen our understanding it does nonetheless. The best books do both.

In 1975 Webster Schott wrote about Shogun in the New York Times: “I can’t remember when a novel has seized my mind like this one. . . . Clavell has a gift. It may be something that cannot be taught or earned. He breathes narrative. It’s almost impossible not to continue to read Shogun once having opened it. Yet it’s not only something that you read—you live it.”

Creating characters and plot lines that allow us to live and breathe through them, that compel us to ponder the deep, disturbing questions about human existence, and to leave us craving for more. Isn’t that what we all want when we pick up a book?

Isn’t that what we all want when we put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) in our aspiration to write a novel?

The “Willing Suspension of Disbelief” in Fiction and Film

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Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) and Claire Fraser (Caitriona Balfe) in the ‘Outlander’ ‘Wedding’ episode

What draws a reader into a story and compels her to keep tuning pages? This interests me both as a reader and a writer with a novel ready to publish. It interests me because so many novels I start I never finish. I’m beginning to wonder if the fault lies more with me as a reader than with the writer.

As a writer I’m used to reading my own work with a critical distance and a skeptical eye, which are essential to the purpose of revision, but deadly to the act of reading for enjoyment.  What’s essential there is what Coleridge coined “a willing suspension of disbelief,” or “poetic faith.”

But if what we bring to the table, instead of poetic faith, is a skeptical and critical disposition, the novel may be doomed before it’s ever given a chance to work its magic on us.

Perhaps the reason so many novels I pick up fall short is because I’m reading through the wrong lens, with a critical eye towards revision, toward rewriting the page in my own image, rather than that willing suspension of disbelief, allowing the writer to draw me into the story in her own way.

A case in point: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.

I had been looking for a steamy romance with a literary bent, having found nothing lately within either of those genres–romantic or literary–that held my interest.

Someone suggested I try the Outlander series. I was highly skeptical from the start. A time-travelling romance? It sounded far-fetched. But since I had nothing better to read and the book came with so many 5 star reviews and a huge fan-base, I decided to give it a try.

I was not impressed. The writing was fine, the characters okay, but the pacing was extremely slow. It wasn’t at all the book that I wanted to read and I kept thinking how to revise it to better hold my interest. But I kept reading because I wanted to get to the juicy parts, to see how the author and protagonist would handle the time gap, the sudden jolt 200 years back into the past. And I wanted to see who her love interest would  be.

Well, needless to say, I was disappointed again. Claire seemed barely phased by the fact she had been transported back 200 years. She saw it more as a logistical problem, how to get home, rather than “am I losing my mind, this can’t be happening” response I had imagined and felt would ring more true. Then when the first person she meets, a captain in the British army, tries to rape her, the whole thing seemed so implausible, I almost stopped reading right there.

But who would be her love interest? That question kept me going until I discovered it was this low-level member of a rebel band who had managed to get himself wounded, and was clearly several years her junior. If I had been writing the book I would have chosen the daring, hot-headed leader of the group, who while years older, seemed more exciting. Clearly this was not the book I was hoping to read and I set it aside.

But when the film series about the Outlander came out on TV, I decided to give it another try, and the film easily sucked me in. The music, the scenery, the costumes, the actors chosen to play each part, all were perfectly pitched to draw me in and sweep me away. The resistance I had initially for the series, and the critical distance I held it, melted away. The willing suspension of disbelief so needed for my viewing pleasure was in full force.

By the time the first season ended, I was so enthralled, I eagerly picked up the book again and began reading. This time I thoroughly enjoyed it and couldn’t understand why I hadn’t before.

I think we are more willing to suspend disbelief when viewing a movie than when reading a novel. The visual and auditory power of film-making does most of the work for us without the need to translate black letters on a white page into scenery or sounds. The musical score is an added bonus manipulating our emotions to match what the filmmaker wants us to feel, and when well-done it’s barely noticeable.

Much is required of both writer and filmmaker to make his or her creation “sing.” Both must learn their craft well and comply with the basic elements of story-telling, as I wrote about in my last post. But the filmmaker has more tools to entice the viewer into that willing suspension of disbelief needed to enjoy the film.

The writer has less to work with. So it’s essential for the reader, especially if the reader is a writer, to come to the work as a willing and eager partner. We must be willing to set aside our writerly prejudice to allow the story to work its magic on us.

Below are links to posts referenced here:

Sexy, Smart, Sweet, & Soulful

Speaking of Erotica . . .

Loss & Desire, and the Search for Something More in Life & Literature

 

 

Loss & Desire, and the Search for Something More, in Life & Literature

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These are the themes that run through so much of what I’m compelled to write about. No doubt because they are the great themes running through all the arts, through myth, religion, psychology–through life itself.

The poem below captures that so eloquently.

Meditation at Lagunitas

By Robert Hass

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
The idea, for example, that each particular erases
the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light. Or the other notion that,
because there is in this world no one thing
to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,
a word is elegy to what it signifies.
We talked about it late last night and in the voice
of my friend, there was a thin wire of grief, a tone
almost querulous. After a while I understood that,
talking this way, everything dissolves: justice,
pine, hair, woman, you and I. There was a woman
I made love to and I remembered how, holding
her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,
I felt a violent wonder at her presence
like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river
with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,
muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish
called pumpkinseed. It hardly had to do with her.
Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances. I must have been the same to her.
But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread,
the thing her father said that hurt her, what
she dreamed. There are moments when the body is as numinous
as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.
Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,
saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.

So much here resonates with me:

  • how “each particular erases the luminous clarity of a general idea,”
  • how each particular presence is “some tragic falling off from a first world of undivided light,”
  • how “a word is elegy to what it signifies,”
  • how “desire is full of endless distances,”
  • including “the moments when body is as numinous as words.”

I wrote a series of blog posts several years ago about how these themes are developed in Milton’s Paradise Lost, Wordsworth’s Prelude, and Lacan’s Mirror State, starting with Some Tragic Falling Off into Difference and Desire.

I wrote in Our Quest for Wholeness:

Writers of fiction know that to create a compelling story that keeps readers turning pages we must:

  • Create a protagonist with an overarching need or desire (derived from some sense of loss, of being wounded, or incomplete)
  • beset by constant conflict that intensifies and delays achievement of that desire (to gain what was lost, find healing or wholeness)
  • until that need or desire is eventually realized (or not), but either way,
    leaving the protagonist in a better place (happier, wiser, more whole) than where she had been before the story began,
  • having learned something important or significant about herself, the world she lives in, or what it means to be human.

What drives the story and develops the character is a quest to return to wholeness, to regain what was lost. But what is regained is never simply what was lost, but “something more.” Some new realization– wisdom chiseled from the hard knocks and setbacks of a difficult journey, insights into human nature that will light her path moving forward.

Perhaps we find these stories so compelling because they parallel our own psychic development from the womb to maturity and beyond.

I should not have been surprised when rereading and editing my novel to find these themes repeated in each character’s journey from loss and desire to the search for “something more.”

But I was surprised. Perhaps even as we all are surprised to find it running through our own personal history and journeys. We are so close to it that even while we know it is there, we miss it in the particularity of the moment, in the ordinary humdrum of each day. We have to step back, way back, to see it, the path behind and before us. Even then, which fork will we take next? Which way will our lives unfold? It’s all part of the mystery of being, even being ourselves.

I’ll be exploring this more in future blog posts.

The Classical Grammys – Powerful Instrumental Performances

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Violin Painting - Still Life With Musical Instruments by Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraten

Did you watch the Grammys this year? Any favorites among the winners and nominees?

Here are some Grammy winners and nominees that didn’t get a lot of press, but well worth your attention if you enjoy classical music.

Best Classical Instrumental Solo

Winner – Transcendental” — Daniil Trifonov

 

Nominee –  “Levina: The Piano Concertos” — Maria Lettberg (Ariane Matiakh, conductor, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin)

Here Lettberg is playing Etude Op. 8 No. 12 by Scriabin (alternate version)

 

Nominee – ”Haydn: Cello Concertos” — Steven Isserlis {Florian Donderer, conductor, The Deutsch Kammerphilharmonie Bremen)

Here Isserlis is playing with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra.

 

Walking Each Other Home – Why We Write

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Emil NoldeI’ve reread my novel after being away from it for well over a year.

I did so with some trepidation. Much earlier in the writing process, after I had completed and revised the first draft, I put it away for several months. Then read it with a fresh and very critical eye. The result was terrifying: I hated it.

Eventually I came to realize that if you approach any piece of writing with too critical an eye, from a disdaining or resisting distance, you fail to grasp the thing that connects reader/writer. There must be, at the very least, a willingness to allow the story to lead you forward.

I was pleased that my reading of the novel this time did grab hold and keep me reading, keep me involved. I’m going over it again for a final edit but finding little that wants or needs work. The place I’m spending the most time now are the those crucial opening pages, and these too I now feel are ready to go.

I plan to write more about this novel on these pages in the coming months. For I find that I enjoy writing about writing, as so many writers do. And the topics the novel touches upon and themes it explores are important to me, painful as they sometimes are: addiction, homelessness, poverty, life on the street, father-son-mother-daughter relationships, the inability of ever truly knowing anyone, loss and grief, art as self-discovery and redemption, love and romance, spiritual transformation.

In some ways, all I care about, all I am, why I write, why I care, are contained in these pages.

Recently I came across an essay on writing that captures so clearly why I write, and perhaps, why I read. The passages excerpted below reflect my own writing experience.

From Why Writers Write about Writing by Brianna Wiest

 Writing is speaking to yourself, but letting other people overhear the conversation.

The people who are compelled to write down what they feel are the ones who feel it hardest. They make up truths where they didn’t exist before. They put to words what would otherwise go muddled in their minds. Every single writer who can be honest can stand and ratify the fact that wedged between their words, laid subconsciously before them, were great loves and greater losses and deeper insecurities and projected fears. Nothing gets written without the intrinsic motivation to make something confusing and painful clear and beautiful.

I recently saw a quote that went like this: “we’re all just walking each other home.” And sometimes our maps and hands are offered in words. Sometimes we are lighthouses and sometimes we are lost sailors. Writers know you are best crafted out of being both.

And ultimately, the thing about writing is that it forces you to surrender yourself to uncertainty and vulnerability, which, if you ask me, is the most important task to master. My favorite writer . . . Cheryl Strayed once said something along those lines: that the place of unknowing is where the real work gets done — the vulnerable, uncertain place.

Because the best things are written out of the dark parts of us. Because things are always scary when they matter. Because things are inherently neutral and we assign value to them, and looking deeply into the words that touch us may be the greatest way — or the only way — of understanding those parts of us.

“To make something confusing and painful clear and beautiful.”

To help “walk each other home.”

That’s why I wrote this novel.

 

Ta-Da! My New Home Studio

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After having pumped it up, I hope it isn’t a let-down to those who have been waiting to see it, as promised.

Ir’s certainly not as exciting or whimsical as so many of the studios posted on these pages that have inspired me. But it’s mine. And it does say something about me, I think, being practical, inexpensive, yet filled with color and things I love that inspire me.

My husband made me this long wall-to-wall desk top out of pine planks stained a red oak. It sits on inexpensive Ikea knock-offs, purchased online through Office Depot that are surprisingly solid and well-made.

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My studio features two work stations, one for writing and one for painting. I bought inexpensive cubes on Amazon to keep my desktop organized and to keep photos of ;my loved ones near. An odd assortment of cups and jars and baskets keep my paints and brushes tidy and handy.

I re-purposed this portable laptop table as a way to extend my painting work space. It slips under the desk when not in use.

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The focal point of the room is this large blue wall hanging featuring two colorful molas from the San Blas islands when we were sailing through the Panama Canal.

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The many layers of fabric cut and sewn together with such  tiny stitches amazes me.

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Another fabric favorite hangs next to this old blue couch that I bought at Pier One Import years ago. It folds out into a single bed, not very comfortable, but well used over the years.

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I bought the fabric hanging at a county fair years ago. Again, the tiny details amaze me.

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The room also features the flags we saved from our around-the-world sailing adventure. They’ve been stored rolled up in a box till now.

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When entering a new port it was protocol to fly the flag of the host county as well as our own. My daughter made several of these on an old portable foot-pumped sewing machine that fellow yachties gave her.

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I’d planned on buying a counter-height craft table full of fun cubby holes for storing stuff that I found on Amazon. I wanted a place where I could stand to work when I wanted and extra space to create collage paper and spread out the pages of my novel-in-progess when in the process of reorganizing and revising pages.

But I couldn’t bear parting with the super-handy lateral filing cabinet that had been part of my old office. So my husband used that as  base for an island, putting it on wheels and using the old desk-top perched on extenders to create a large island that I could roll out of the way when not in use.

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In this photo it’s holding the two thick binders with drafts of the novel I’m currently working on. In the cubbyhole beneath I store old paintings, magazines, etcetera.

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When we bought this home in foreclosure all the closet doors were missing for some reason. So I put up a curtain instead and decided that I like it, and so it remains.

There’s my bookcase, of course, one of several throughout our home, more books than I’ll ever finish I’m sure, especially now since my Kindle is put to such good use too.

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And then there’s my own artwork, scattered through-out the room. I have to hang it somewhere, and it does inspire me to want to create more.

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I hope you enjoyed this little tour. The room is still a work in progress. I need new window coverings and a new desk chair. And I’m eager to shop through some flea markets and antique stores for more fun and inspiring containers and curiosities to add to my shelves and desktop. But essentially it’s done, and I’m happy with it.

The Art of Living, a Reminder

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Paul Klee. Fish Image 1925

Pail Klee. Fish, 1925

Why do I always forget this? I need to tape it to my wall.

“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.

To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float. You are a function of what the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is a function of what the whole ocean is doing.

Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence.

The art of living . . . is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.”

― Alan Watts

Wrapping Up 2017, Embracing New & Old Loves

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Discovering New Loves – Painting

2017 was the year I revealed my newly discovered passion for painting, and dared to share my work on these pages. So I thought it fitting to end the year with an unfinished painting of a passionate embrace, inspired, no less, by the works of Emil Nolde, Edvard Munch, and Marc Chagal, as follows:

lovers emil nolde

Edvard Munch

chagall

Nearly half my posts in 2017 were art related, whether of my own work, or the work of favorite artists, or just about the craft and love of painting. One favorite, my own and others, was a rhapsody on Naming a Painting, “Like Two Lovers in Conversation.”

Several posts paired art with music, starting with Friday Pairings – Butterflies & Vivaldi and including Almost Blue, Jazz & Art, which, along with Artists & Writers in Their Studios, were two art-related posts that made the Top-Ten chart in my blog sidebar, a list that traditionally does not move much.

Renewing Old Loves – Playing Music

But 2017 was also a year for reuniting with old loves, a passion of my youth, playing piano. I treated myself to a baby grand, something I never dreamed I would own, and began relearning to play. Old favorites like Beethoven’s For Eloise and Moonlight Sonata were flowing from my fingertips once again.

In pursuit of my music I discovered, amazingly, two master pianists that you would’ve thought I’d already known: Bill Evans (jazz) and Martha Argerich (classical). I wrote about them and shared their music in Playing Piano, a Full-Body Workout for the Brain and Perfect Pairings, Evans’s “Peace Piece” & Sapiro’s Skies.

In a way, 2017 was the year for making time and space in my life and my home for all my loves, old and new, which I also wrote about. But it wasn’t, isn’t, easy.

Returning to My First Love – Writing

As new loves (painting), and renewed ones (playing piano), took center stage in my life, there seemed little time for my first love, writing, apart from blogging. And so I made a concerted effort to increase my blogging output.

When I started blogging, I averaged one post every 7 to 10 days. But in 2015 and 2016, when my life changed in a dramatic way, my blogging fell off, and once or twice a month became the norm.

This year I made a concerted effort to pick up the pace. Inspired by my 5-year blogging anniversary in July, my posts nearly doubled over the next few months, with 8 posts in August, a new high.

After that flurry, I’m back to about once a week now, and this feels like a good, satisfying and sustainable, pace.

But as much as love blogging, and I DO think of it as “real” writing, I miss creative writing. The novels that have been pushed aside, that wait patiently for my return, still call to me, as I wrote about early this year in Which Would You Choose, My Art or My Novel? Clearly, art won that contest in 2017. But I promised myself that I would return to my novels in 2018. It’s a promise I mean to keep.

Part of that return will be wrapped up in my blog posts. I find writing about writing inspiring. It gets my creative juices flowing.  When I’m thinking out loud on paper about my characters, my themes, their dreams, what drives them, I discover that they are also my dreams, my themes, what drives me essentially, as a writer, an artist, a blogger. Even the music I love and love to play comes from the same place that feeds my soul and fires my passion to create.

In a way, it’s all about exploring our passions, the things that set our souls on fire, and sharing those loves with others. Because love is not love if it does not spill out over onto everything we touch, and touches all who come within its reach.

Wishing you all a happy and passionate embrace of the coming New Year.

“O Holy Night” in Art & Music

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Public Domain 589px-Attributed_to_Carel_Fabritius_002

Attributed to Carel Fabritius

“Peace on Earth, good will toward men.”  Wishing you all a joyful and blessed Christmas.

 

'Adoration of the Shepherds' 1622 by Gerard van Honthorst    HIGH RESOLUTION.     Gerard van Honthorst [Dutch Golden Age painter 1592 – 1656]  Oil on canvas  Wallraf-Richartz-Museum       	           	 	     	         	            HIGH RESOLUTION. Gerard van Hont...

Gerard van Homthorst

BAROCCI, Federico Fiori    Italian painter (b. 1526, Urbino, d. 1612, Urbino)    The Adoration of the Magi  1561-63  Black chalk, pen and brush on blue paper, 293 x 209 mm  Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Federico Fiori

Public Domain 507px-Stella_-_The_Adoration_of_the_Shepherds_-_Walters_371045

Walters – Adoration of the Shepherds

Public Domain Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_L'adoration_des_Mages

Rubens – Adoration of the Magi

Public Domain Raphaels_Geburt (2)

Raphael Gebhurt

Holy Family Late 1750s Tiepolo, Giovanni Battista more Chalk (black), pen and ink, wash on paper

Giovanni Battista

Maathias Stom – The Holy Family

 

Rembrandt, The Holy Family, or The Carpenter’s Household, 1640, Musée du Louvre, Paris, oil on canvas, 41 x 34 cm

Rembrandt – The Holy Family

Rembrandt Drawing 286.jpg

Rembrandt – drawing of the Holy Family