Staying Focused

It has been difficult to stay as focused on my work and my routines this past several months. In September my husband was diagnosed with early dementia. Things change. We change. I don’t change easily but I have learned that I can. It has taken time to focus and take advantage of the time I can have in the studio….learning when is the best time to afford the luxury of peace that making art gives to me.

For weeks I quit doing my tai chi and yoga because I could not focus on the moves and made excuses to simply not do it. The time I always spent on this was late afternoon when work in the studio was pretty much at a standstill. But it seemed that the distraction of being needed elsewhere came more often at that time. I would start and stop one thing after another while getting used to how things will be.

When I took my lessons in the three kodas I learned in tai chi, it was twenty years ago. I decided then that I would make a book of the moves, illustrating them and describing how they were done. My teacher said she had never heard of such a thing. I told her I wanted to do tai chi into my nineties and knew that by then would need some help remembering. The book would be that needed prompt. After so many weeks of ignoring the practice, I found I needed this book. I would start over and over and over until the body remembered. Sometimes in the middle I would freeze, forget, want to quit, but I didn’t. Some of the yoga stretches and stances are harder after such an absence of practice. My body feels more “blocky”, hard to maneuver. This will take more time and pushing myself.

Here are some pictures of my treasured little book. It started as a lesson in hard covered traditional binding of a blank journal. Not the best job and I really do hate blank pages, so it seemed perfect for the job of translating what was giving me some inner peace and strength into a visual and useful form… instructional manual so to speak.

I really am so glad that I took my lessons so seriously as to make this book for “when I am ninety”.

Meanwhile in the studio when we got the prognosis, I made pages, lots of pages that I gessoed and then stitched using a sewing notion tool to get the stitches exactly the same size. When I felt particularly at a loss, I would draw into them with graphite and only the watercolors made from the soils of our yard. Each folio is only about 4.5 x 3.5 inches. I could keep my lost feelings small and get them over with….and get on with it…..whatever “it” was that day. At first I colored several of them. Then I put them into a wooden box where they fit perfectly and are there if I need them….but not so often now. Here are a few of those pages.

When I found the stack of gessoed boards a while back I decided to just use them with silver point drawings that were then to be water colored. The first one was the drawing of trees in a forest with a magical door to something…..just somewhere else. The silver point drawing was nice and took lots of time. It was all coming out of my head….something I don’t normally do….I like something physical in front of me to draw. Anyway after I drew it, I decided to watercolor it, then add caran ‘dache crayons. It became very muddy, so I took it outside and used my electric sander over the surface. It made me see how memory is. You think its there, all in order and bright and clear…and then parts fade, parts get stuck, parts become even more parts. I may have posted this before on my blog, but here it is in the context of where we were at the time.

These gessoed boards were not well done….far from it, so they were perfect to work on. I liked how this one in particular even developed a hole right down to the wooden base. It personifies fading memories.

Then I started on the other gessoed boards. Just taking some of my collected bits and pieces and capturing them as best I could. And now I am doing more of them with the fabricated specimens. Some will be framed, some will be exhibited in a large open drawer on a table below them ….looking like an actual specimen collection. Building an imaginary something with spare parts. Then recording it as if it truly mattered. And to me right now it does. They are something I can control and see to completion. Here is the latest one in the studio yesterday. I don’t know if I am through with all the details, but it is very satisfying to work on.

And thanks to a very supportive collection of family and friends, my trip to Australia will be just as wonderful as all the rest that came before. They will take turns staying here at the house and make sure that all runs smoothly. I am extremely lucky to have them all so willing to take over. And as much as I have said it before, almost every trip down under, this might be my last time there. I intend to make the most of it and have the best time with students and friends ever. A new suitcase that is just the right size arrives tomorrow and there are collections of relative materials ready to pack inside. My boards for white line printing are all cut and sanded, samples of books and bindings, tools for making earthen pigments….lots of things are waiting to be put into that suitcase.

Speaking of Australia, yesterday two things arrived in the mail. One was from a friend in the art group. He subscribes to Archaeology magazine and sent a wonderful article on the remains of bushranger, Ned Kelly. The other was so generous and unexpected. I wish I could put a face to the woman who took the time and certainly expense to send me this year’s book by Kim Mahood, an Australian writer and artist, titled, Position Doubtful….mapping landscapes and memories. In italics on the back cover it says as follows:

Imagine the document you have before you is not a book but a map. It is well-used, creased, and folded, so that when you open it, no matter how carefully, something tears and a line that is neither latitude nor longitude opens in the hidden geography of the place you are about to enter.

Isn’t that wonderful! Bruce Pascoe says, “Mahood is a writer of country. Her chapters unfurl like the ribbons of red dunes.”

The woman who sent me this most perfect gift wrote a note telling me that she took a class of mine many years ago and recently bought my book on Earthen Pigments. She found it to be very helpful in her efforts to extract colors from the ground. And when she bought the Mahood book for herself she found that halfway through she kept thinking of me, so sent me this copy.

I am so grateful. It could not have arrived at a more perfect time. There is magic and memory in the grounds we walk on. Thank you, Kathy Salter for reminding me of this. Maybe our paths will cross while I am back in your much-loved country.

Now back to the studio or wherever I need to be.