Monday, May 31, 2010

Composition - Into the Mist - re-working an old piece

The last few days I've been transitioning to a new painting as well as getting ready for a long week of tutoring for exams.  I was getting out a canvas for my new piece (8'x2.5') and scratched up an old piece so I had to re-work the old one.  I'm glad I did.  I think the colors are richer and more interesting for the extra work.  The piece is from my series, Into the Mist.  For that series, I painted images based on photographs I took while moving the camera.  When my husband and I first moved in together, I wasn't convinced I could both be married AND be an artist.  I hadn't tried that before.  My husband was completely supportive though, so eventually I realized it was not only possible, it was vitally important to my well-being and to the well-being of our marriage.  Anyway, as I was moving towards that realization, one day I went out into the woods with my son's digital camera, a new technology to me at that time.  It was misty and getting dark.  I took a picture then realized I'd shaken the camera so it was pretty blurry.  I liked what I saw!  I started shaking the camera intentionally and loved the images I was getting. 

Because I am best at painting precisely what I see, it's difficult for me to move into abstraction.  These paintings were a move in that direction because they are abstract images themselves, but I painted exactly what I saw in the photo.

The image I was working on yesterday (the one shown here) is actually a picture of my silver minivan on our carport with a hose as well!  I realize it's somewhat difficult to recognize those elements in it!  That's what I loved about it.  That and the fact that the composition is very appealing to me.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Women Food and God

Last week two or three different people told me about a book they'd just read which they thought I would like.  It's called Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to almost Everything by Geneen Roth.  In it she talks about the connection between what we eat and who we are.  She suggests that if we take the time to feel our feelings, we won't need to stuff them down our throats in the form of food.  Her writing is clear, succinct, compassionate and at times humorous.

She has come up with something she calls The Eating Guidelines:

1. Eat when you are hungry.
2. Eat sitting down in a calm environment.
     This does not include the car.
3. Eat without distractions.  Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-     producing conversations or music.
4. Eat what your body wants.
5. Eat until you are satisfied.
6. Eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others.
7. Eat with enjoyment, gusto and pleasure.

I find the guidelines to be profoundly simple and wise and logical - and difficult to follow.  One of my favorite things to do is to have my meal in front of me and to eat it while I read.  And I can see how that leads me to eat more than I would otherwise.  I have a friend who eats more in order to be able to read longer!  Yikes!

Eating when I'm hungry and until I'm satisfied is not always easy either.  Sometimes my schedule doesn't allow it.  Sometimes I like the food enough that I want to finish it.  Sometimes I feel like I shouldn't leave something on my plate.  Geneen Roth addresses each of these excuses and more.

I recommend this book highly if you want to explore the connection between food and creativity and feelings and God.  Powerful stuff!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Addicted to Sugar

Close to 20 years ago, at a La Leche League Meeting (a support group for women who are breastfeeding their babies), I'd heard the concept of sugar addiction.  I tossed it off as ridiculous - sugar is just a food!  How can you be addicted to a food?  But the statement stuck in my brain, and over the years, I noticed that I ate a LOT of sugar!  I was a single coparent (my ex was an active parent as well, but when I had the kids, I had them) for a very long time, and after the kids went to bed, I would dive into whatever yummy things were in the house as my treat at the end of the day.  It was quite enjoyable.  The negative effect was that I would get jazzed up on sugar and not go to sleep until 2 AM.  That time of  night was also my time to myself to be alone and raed or watch a movie to call friends on the phone or anything else I wanted to do as an adult.  But it made it difficult to get up in the morning to get the kids off to school!  I managed, but then I'd nap during the day any time I had 10-20 minutes to do so.  I also began to notice that my moods would swing somewhat.  I'd snap at the kids with too little provocation.  And I'd get horrible headaches that would put me out of commission for the rest of the day.  It took a while to put two and two together, but I began to realize that the amount of sugar I was eating was having a deleterious affect on my life. 

For several years I attempted to stop eating it.  I'd manage for a week or two, but after that time, the cravings would get pretty intense, and I wouldn't really be able to keep myself from eating it.  Or if I got past that time, something would come up - the anniversary of my grandmother's death reminded me of the banana bread she used to make for me, so I made a loaf, ate it, and got hooked on sugar again for another year.  Another time I was at my mother's.  She had a former neighbor of ours visiting her and had served her some brownies.  She offered me some.  I said no thank you.  She said, "It's ridiculous that you aren't eating sugar - how is one brownie going to hurt you?"  It was in front of someone I cared about.  Quite awkward.  Difficult to turn down.  Made me feel ridiculous and rigid.  I believe I started eating it again that evening.

I was finding it to be difficult to stop responding to stress, even if it was just the stress of everyday life, by eating sugar.  When I was tutoring, I'd have a 10 minute break during which I'd walk to 7-11 and get a couple of candy bars to eat.
I talked to a friend who had stopped drinking alcohol in a unique way - he arranged with three friends that he would call each of them once a week.  During that time, the contact would ask my friend specific questions they'd arranged beforehand, then he/she would listen attentively and non-judgmentally as he answered them.  He made the situation safe for himself and chose good listening partners.  Through this, he was able to stop drinking alcohol.

I decided to try that with sugar.  One of my listening partners was that friend.  Another I chose almost at random from Quaker Meeting.  And the third was a woman who'd been a good friend for a long time and with whom I was very close.

I had them ask me the following questions:

* Has anything come up this week that has made it difficult to not eat sugar?
* How are you feeling?
* What sort of feelings did you have that you wanted to stuff down with sugar?
* What did you do this week that made you feel good?

I didn't know how the questions would work, or if they would.  What I found was that the third question was the best: "What sort of feelings did you have that you wanted to stuff down with sugar?"  I hadn't made the connection before, but I began to realize that I would want sugar when I wasn't wanting to feel my feelings.  It took me out of them quite effectively (temporarily).  When I gave myself the opportunity to feel the feelings instead, I no longer felt the desire/need to eat.  It was very gentle and loving. 

Each time I'd tried to stop eating sugar before, I'd felt like I was depriving myself of my favorite thing.  This time, in contrast, I perceived it as giving myself a gift.  A precious gift.  A gentle and loving gift:  attention and compassion, just the things I'd been needing most.

It was mostly wonderful checking in with my friends.  One of them, though, I found, didn't have an understanding of the possibility of sugar as an addictive substance, so she would chide me or gently deride me for being so hard on myself that I was giving up sugar.  (I already didn't drink much alcohol or smoke or drink caffeine, so she thought I was just being overly perfectionistic.)  She wasn't an effective listening partner, so I gradually stopped calling her.  The other two, though, were very helpful, especially my Friend from Quaker Meeting. I hadn't known that she had her own issues with food addictions when I asked her to support me, but her history ended up being perfect for me - she understood my situation and the feelings I was having and knew a lot about skills I could use to be gentle enough to stop eating sugar.  We talked weekly for many years, eventually becoming intensely intimate friends.  I will be forever grateful to her for her warm and loving insights and support and compassion.

After a couple of years of not eating sugar, it became easier to go to parties and not feel weird.  I learned how to say no at dinner parties and restaurants.  I learned to not feel deprived.  I reminded myself that this was a gift.  The 25 pounds I lost were a bonus, but not the reason I stopped eating it.

I noticed that my moods evened out.  I didn't snap at the kids in the same way.  And I started creating more.  My creativity blossomed.  Since I wasn't stuffing feelings down, I was able to access them and everything else that lay beneath them, and I started making things all the time!  I was writing poetry, making polymer clay, teaching well, then drawing and painting.  I believe that giving up sugar was my doorway to my creative life.  Now THAT's a real gift!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

terrific article from the

My darlin' husband found a terrific article for me on the website.  It's about women's body image from the male perspective.  I found it insightful and interesting and fairly well-researched. 

I'm delighted by how many articles there are about this topic these days.  It feels like there's a groundswell happening - perhaps it will begin to combat the insidious nature of the media - slowly but surely.  That would be LOVELY!!

Link to the article

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Purple Hat

From my lovely friend Gerlinde in Vienna, a poem she found:


Age 3: She looks at herself and sees a Queen.

Age 8: She looks at herself and sees Cinderella.

Age 15: She looks at herself and sees an Ugly Sister (Mum I can't go to school looking like this!)

Age 20: She looks at herself and sees "too fat/too thin, too short/too tall, too straight/too curly"- but decides she's going out anyway.

Age 30: She looks at herself and sees "too fat/too thin, too short/too tall, too straight/too curly" - but decides she doesn't have time to fix it, so she's going out anyway.

Age 40: She looks at herself and sees "clean" and goes out anyway.

Age 50: She looks at herself and sees "I am" and goes wherever she wants to go.

Age 60: She looks at herself and reminds herself of all the people who can't even see themselves in the mirror anymore. Goes out and conquers the world.

Age 70: She looks at herself & sees wisdom, laughter and ability, goes out and enjoys life.

Age 80: Doesn't bother to look. Just puts on a PURPLE hat and goes out to have fun with the world.

I'm definitely going to get out my purple hat tomorrow!  Should we start a club?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Input on the title

I've gotten a lot of input for the title to the piece I had named Stardust.  It seems to bring up different associations for different people.

Here's what Adele had to say:

remote, distant, captivated.
I'm looking at the painting of Valley that you were calling Stardust and I agree, that title does not do this piece justice. I get conflicting messages from this painting...her face is engaged in thought, oblivious-seeming (block out her body) but her body seems a bit on edge, like she's ready to leave. (block out her neck, up) Her legs are tense, her hands seem to be there for lack of a better place for them? Her shoulders though, are relaxed. It makes me wonder, what is she thinking and why is she verging on ecstasy or escape? and what IS that piece of paper beside her? an envelope, a letter? Is that what is causing her to ponder so distantly? It's an intriguing painting.On an aside, the chair is painted so solidly and sumptuously... it's awesome.

And Drea:

Hmm... I'm looking at your painting, and thinking along the lines of "Daydreams" as a title. She appears to be thinking, to me, but not heavily... relaxed, peaceful, even fanciful perhaps. Which is what brings me to "Daydreams."

It's lovely, Susan. :)

And a couple of other suggestions:

Gal with an Attitude
I think I'll have to let her hang around the studio a while longer and see what arises over time.  Clearly this is not so straightforward a process this time! 

And I welcome more input!

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Thank the good Lord I finally started feeling better today!  I'd spent the last 3 days in bed, almost unable to get up except to go to the doctor.  Yesterday I went to the accupuncturist and got a treatment and some Chinese herbs.  Afterwards I didn't feel any better, but today I feel half well.  I've been awake all day - quite an accomplishment this week! - and have even been able to get into the studio. 

I've been thrilled to have had the energy to work on Stardust.  In fact, the piece is almost finished.  There are some details I need to take care of, and I might do another layer on her face to make it a bit more refined, but other than that, I feel finished.  I'm delighted with how it's turned out. 

This piece will probably be the centerpiece of the collaborative show I'm doing with Valley Haggard in February at Randolph Macon College in Ashland, VA.  She's writing about her experience of being photographed and painted and I'm creating the artwork for the show as well as writing about it on this blog.

The canvas for this piece is 60"x44", but somehow it doesn't feel that large.  She's larger than lifesize but fits just right on the canvas.

I'm realizing that the name doesn't fit the piece anymore.  I had plans to do the background a bit differently, but I don't think I will.  I'd love suggestions if you have a thought about a good title!


A friend of mine on Facebook posted a link to Scarleteen.  It's a website specifically for teens and young adults which is full of really good information about bodies and sex.  She talks about any topic you can imagine from sex to masturbation to the size of different body parts.  It's wonderfully educational and informative without the least bit of judgment associated with it as far as I can tell.  I really wish I'd had this when I was growing up.

I was fortunate to have Everything you wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask.  I was embarrassed almost to the point of mortification, but I went into a book store (not in my small home town) and bought it.  I was at the point where I definitely needed information - I was going out with a guy who was putting a lot of pressure on me to do things I was not comfortable with and I didn't have a clue how to say no, much less what he was talking about!  I brought the book home and read it voraciously.  When I wasn't reading it, I put it under my mattress so no one would discover it.  One day I came home and was wanting to read it and discovered that it was no longer there - and my sheets were clean.  Apparently Mom had changed my sheets and had found the book.  OMG, I thought I would die.  I didn't ask her about it because that would be admitting that I owned the book.  She didn't say anything about it.  It wasn't until 3-4 years later, when I was in college, that I saw the book on HER bookshelf in her bedroom.  I told her it was my book and asked how she had gotten it.  She didn't remember, apparently, and said it was hers!  I never did finish reading it.

It was so hard to learn about sex but so incredibly important to have information.  I don't think that's changed at all.  I think kids are probably even more pressured now than they used to be to be sexually active.  Thank goodness for Scarleteen which gives kids good, unbiased information, especially since the schools don't/can't/won't. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Fat Rant by Joy Nash

I found this wonderful video by Joy Nash.  She considers herself fat and talks about it with vigor and pride.  I love the way she talks about fat - as if it's just simply another adjective without any pejorative associations.  Awesome!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Role models - Bling Lady and Joyful, Joyful models

Being in a body is such a strange thing. All this work I do on body image makes me think, of course, about bodies and health and looks much of the time. I'm also trying to get in shape so I feel good in my body. My darlin' mother is having all kinds of physical issues right now which are probably at least partially related to her not being fond of exercising, so I'm watching that and making a choice to keep myself fit so I can age gracefully and healthfully, if possible.

I'm using as my role models two of my models, older women, who exercise all the time. One of them is now 90-years-old and is still teaching dance.  She dances at least weekly and teaches twice/week, plus does pilates.  She has a great gusto for life and, as far as I can tell, has no intention of slowing down anytime soon.  I would be delighted to be in such good shape at that age!  It's so great to know someone who takes such awesome care of herself and is so fit and powerful.  She definitely defies stereotypes of aging.

My other role model, whom I painted in Bling Lady, is a gorgeous 65-year-old woman who runs marathons and does half Iron Mans. She loves to exercise and gets much joy from expressing herself in her body. She has agreed to be my running coach and is working on helping me get ready for a 5 K race in July. The frustrating thing for me is that since I started running, I've been very sick - twice! I hadn't been sick in years, so this is maddening to me! I don't know if I'm shocking my system by overusing it or what. I'm taking a break this week to try to give myself a chance to fully recover, but I really do want to become at least a moderate runner. I don't aspire to a marathon, but a 5K would be very fun! I'm wondering if I'm sabotaging myself at some level - I've never perceived myself as athletic, and I've never been a runner - am I manifesting old messages by getting sick and making it so I can't get healthy/athletic? What is the deal?

I also have an issue with my left foot - perhaps a bone spur, something like that - it flares up when I run much, though it's actually worse when I walk. Then there's my lower back which has hurt for about a year and a half now. I've done physical therapy and have been keeping up with my exercises, but it's not getting much better. I used to love to dance - it was my JOY and fun and delight! - I can't really do it now, and it pisses me off. I don't know how to get myself into shape and out of pain. I don't want to be in pain the rest of my life, one little thing after another building on the next little thing. It erodes the joy and makes it harder to get out there and exercise.

A few years ago a doctor told me I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome which is a condition where connective tissues are loose. There are several levels of it. I guess I might have the least serious of them. Basically it's what makes my joints so flexible (and why I'm good at yoga) and makes me bruise easily. I think it also is responsible for the pain I feel more of the time than not. There's no cure. It just is what it is. Good spiritual practice.

So perhaps one of the reasons I'm so passionate about helping women love their bodies is because I would love to accept my body fully, pain and weirdnesses and aging and all.   

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On being sick and having to look good then too

Man, it seems like forever since I've posted, though I recognize that it hasn't been!  I am sick again, this time with a secondary infection, a sinus infection.  I went to the doctor this morning where I spent three hours waiting and being seen then got some antibiotics which will hopefully make me better (and will secondarily treat a tick bite I got over the weekend should it prove to be infected with Lyme's disease).  Then I went to BED.  4 hours sleep in the middle of the day is such a gift, yet a bit perplexing to wake up from.  I sure hope this gets gone SOON.  I don't like being sick.  Plus my students are gearing up for exams so that means extra stress and work all around.

I was just looking for some pitiful images of people who look sick so I could paste them here to help y'all feel sorry for me.  ; ) Check out the one of the woman in the pink hat.  I actually found it on a blog with the title, "How to look good with a cold".  The blogger gives tips for what sort of make up to wear to help you look better, saying you might feel better if you look better.  I'm all for feeling better, but I am frankly disgusted that there are even tips about how to look better when I'm sick.  Can't I just BE SICK and give my precious body time to recover???  I figure when I'm sick that my body needs time to rest and recover.  If I continue to push it as hard as I usually do, how kind is that?  I see this as more of the societal drive to have to look "good" all the time.  There's something screwed up about that!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Some new work on an older piece

On Friday I was trying to decide which piece to take to Crossroads for the bimonthly All Media Show which I often enter.  I wanted to take Presence which is a particular favorite of the gallery owner, but when I got it down to get it ready, I saw there was much I wanted to do to it still.  I had thought it was finished, but I hadn't been able to feel satisfied about it several months ago.  So I went back into it.  I don't normally do that.  When I'm finished, I'm finished.

This time I'm glad I did take another shot at it.  Here are the older version and the one I think is finished now:

The first version had a shadow on the right hand side which I just couldn't like.  Though the color was accurate according to the photograph, I just didn't like how green it was compared to how orange-y her body was.  I actually worked on the background for a full day trying to get the right color and value.  I don't think it shows well in the photo, but I like how it looks now better than before.  I also reduced the size of her hip because I had it sticking out too far before.  I'm sure my model will appreciate that shift! 

In addition I did lots and lots of work on little things which won't show in the photo but which made me feel better about the piece.  I've adjusted the colors subtly, increased the contrast in the face, re-painted the hands, re-modeled the knee, increased contrast in other areas.  My son, Andrew, came out to the studio and was really helpful pointing out areas that needed some work.  He said he felt terrible doing it, like he was being ultra-picky, but I was really grateful!  It's hard to find someone who has a discerning enough eye to be able to notice little things that are off.  They make a huge difference in the final product.

So now I'll let the piece hang around the studio for a few weeks to see if it needs more attention or if, this time, it's actually done, then in a couple of months I'll take it over the Crossroads for the NEXT All Media Show!

Friday, May 14, 2010

More choices - or not...

We're headed to the Eastern Shore this weekend to kayak, relax, and look at properties with the thought of one day, perhaps, moving there.  It's a tricky time of life with parents getting older and needing help and kids not quite yet on their independent own.  It look tantalizingly like we're going to have more choices next year since our youngest is headed to college, but then things crop up and we're needed at home more than ever.  It feels a bit frustrating, but I guess that's just how life is.  I think I need to have a scream fest.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A few weeks ago a friend of mine was kind enough to send me a letter from Dear Abby which she thought I might find interesting.  She was right!  Here it is:

April 7, 2010


DEAR ABBY: My brother is 9 and still walks around naked. I have asked "Josh" repeatedly to put on some clothes, but he blows me off and flaunts himself around the house. My mother is no help. When I ask her to talk to him, she laughs and says, "Boys will be boys." Abby, I'm 13 and it is starting to freak me out. Am I being paranoid, or am I right to want him to put on a pair of boxers or something?


DEAR OLDER SISTER: Your mother is right about one thing: Boys WILL be boys. Your brother is acting like an immature child who's enjoying teasing his sister. On the other hand, she's wrong to laugh off your discomfort. One reason children have parents is so someone can teach them respect for the feelings of others. At 9, Josh is too big to ignore, and at 13, you are no longer a little girl. If he wants to be naked in his bedroom, fine and dandy. But when he's in the rooms shared by everyone, he should cover up. And if he doesn't, there should be consequences.

What do you think?  Should a 9-year-old be allowed to run around naked if he feels so moved?  Should he be forced to cover up?  Is the mother allowing the kid to grow up without respecting the needs of others?  Is the girl too uptight?  Is our society too uptight that she would be upset at the sight of a 9-year-old's body?  Or is this just sibling silliness?

Here are my friend's thoughts on the matter:

Hi Susan,

I read the "Dear Abby" article this morning, and it struck a chord. The one I highlighted below (re: nakedness) caught my eye. I can't decide how I feel about it - either about the 13 year old girl who complained, or about Abby's answer. I haven't raised children of my own, so I haven't experienced this situation in real life.

Prior to reading your explorations and thoughts regarding nakedness in our society, I would have agreed completely with Abby's reply. I would have moved on, without a second thought. But now... a part of me wonders if the 13 year old is having a normal human response, or if she is being badgered by society's morals and views on nakedness. I had a little brother, too. I do well remember giggling when he used to (as a little boy) escape from my mom when she was drying him off after a bath - and run around the house. It was a game to him, and my sister and I were not disturbed by it. I don't think he was 9 yet, though.

Anyway, I am forwarding it to you since it may spark a discussion with your friends/fans as well. I'm still not sure what my own thoughts are, except that I am a bit disturbed that the 13 year old is uncomfortable with her little brother goofing off. What is going through her mind? Is she feeling that his playing around is sexual in some manner? Maybe that is what bothers me. Hmm.


Please feel free to add to the discussion if you have further thoughts on the matter...

Monday, May 10, 2010

"Don't disturb him" - yeah, right!

The excerpt yesterday "I'd salt his coffee..."  gave me lots of pause to think.  I grew up thinking I was supposed to be "good" and not disturb anyone who was upset or feeling grumpy.

I was cowed by glowers and disapproval or the hint of either, or even by my projection of disapproval.  I think that gave my ex power over me which wasn't helpful to either of us.  It's so important to be on equal footing in a marriage.

When Chris and I met, we were so thrilled to be equal with each other.  We met doing Contact Improvisation, a dance form where the dancers generally stay in contact with each other throughout the dance which is improvised.  There is a lot of weight sharing - i.e. leaning into each other, even to the point of rolling over each other.  Chris and I used the metaphor that neither of us leaned too far into the other and that we could take each other's weight.  Though he's a big man, 6'2" and 200 lb, I am well able to lift him on my back, and he me.  We can lean into each other without being overwhelmed. 
When we get irritated with each other, we often break the impasse by going head-to-head.  Literally.  We put our foreheads together and push as hard as we can, generally grunting and fuming and sometimes yelling as we go.  It breaks through my resistance to saying what's really on my mind (which I've held back for fear of hurting him or for fear of revealing something embarrassing about myself) and gives me the chance to get it out of my system.  Chris, being the wonderful man he is, laughs uproariously and wrestles more.  We usually end up convulsed in laughter hugging each other.  It is the most marvelous way I've ever found to resolve issues in a marriage! 

(By the way, these pictures are from a contact improvisation dance.  That's me flipping over the guy's back!  Chris and I don't do that in the house, but it gets close sometimes!)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

"If your husband looks grave, let him alone; don't disturb or annoy him."

This excerpt from Hearts of Fire by Kemp Battle is by a woman who doesn't agree with the maxim, "If your husband looks grave, let him alone; don't disturb or annoy him."

Oh, pshaw! When I'm married, the soberer my husband looked, the more fun I'd rattle about his ears. "Don't disturb him!" I guess so! I'd salt his coffee - and pepper his tea - and sugar his beefsteak - and tread on his toes - and hide his newspaper - and sew up his pockets - and put pins in his slippers - and dip his cigars in water - and wouldn't stop for the Great Mogul, till I had shortened his face to my liking. Certainly he'd "get vexed," there wouldn't be any fun teasing him if he didn't, and that would give his melancholy blood a good healthful start, and his eyes would snap and sparkle, and he'd say, "Fanny, will you be quiet or not?" and I should laugh and pull his whiskers, and say, decidedly, "Not!" and then I should tell him I hadn't the slightest idea how handsome he looked when he was vexed, and then he would pretend not to hear the compliment - but would pull up his dickey, and take a sly peep in the glass (for all that!) and then he'd begin to grow amiable, and get off his stilts, and be just as agreeable all the rest of the evening as if he wasn't my husband, and all because I didn't follow that stupid piece of advice, "to let him alone." Just as if I didn't know! Just imagine me, Fanny, sitting down on a cricket in the corner, with my forefinger in my mouth, looking out the sides of my eyes, and waiting till that man got ready to speak to me? You can see at once it would be -- be--. Well, the amount of it is, I shouldn't do it.

Fanny Fern

Tomorrow you can read how Chris and I handle this sort of interaction in our marriage!

Friday, May 7, 2010

On giving up my identity when I got married

I am somewhat embarassed to admit that I made the mistake of giving up my individuality when I got married the first time. My parents had a fairly traditional marriage with Dad working and Mom staying at home to take care of us and the household. I guess I absorbed the values that the woman's place was in the home, and the man's was to dominate and take care of the woman. The wife was to subsume her interests to those of her husband's and family's. This was not a healthy situation for our family, but I guess Mom and Dad didn't perceive any other options. I don't think either of them questioned it. Mom is a very strong woman with myriad talents and interests. I think she would have been much happier had she pursued them fully during her early years rather than waiting until she got divorced.

When I met my ex-husband, I was in Germany on a Fulbright Scholarship, living life to the fullest, at the top of my game. I was studying how to teach foreign languages in the elementary school - a matter I was passionate about. I was very interested in photography and took 100's of pictures a month. I journalled everyday and thought about becoming a writer. My life was spread out in front of me in multi-colored splendor.

My ex was quite open-minded and liberal and free-thinking - after all, he went to Oberlin College in Ohio, the first college to admit women and blacks and had absorbed the radical ideas being espoused there. He was not my impediment.

He was a writer and a photographer - he never could quite decide which passion to pursue more fully - and a very talented one at that. It was his intention to write books for a living. He has managed to publish several, but he doesn't quite live of their royalties yet. The point is that he really is quite talented and has pursued his passion strongly.

When we fell in love and I saw how intent he was on becoming a writer or photographer, something in me made me give up both of those interests. I thought that we couldn't both do them because it would be threatening to him if I were more successful than he.   (Or that's the excuse I told myself subconsciously for giving them up.)  At some level I thought my job was to support him emotionally and logistically as he became the writer he wanted to be.

At least I didn't give up teaching!  I know I was born to teach.  I don't think there's anything that could have kept me from doing that, but I am also aware that that is traditionally a "woman's" profession.  I had determined that I wanted to teach German in the Elementary School so I could help children see how cool foreign languages are so they would grow up wanting to learn them and travel and get to know people from other cultures, thus spreading tolerance and acceptance.  At the time, there were four schools in the US where German was taught to such young kids, and there were several schools overseas.  I got a job at one of them, at the American International School in Vienna, Austria.  I taught German, Beginners to Native Speakers from K-5th grade.  It was perfect!

And I supported my husband while he wrote.  For two years.

Until I got pregnant.

At that point, my entire focus turned inward.  I was no longer very interested in teaching other people's children.  Instead I wanted to stay home and care for my child.  And I wanted my husband to support me.  I expected him to. 

There was such a dichotomy in my thinking - on the one hand I was an emancipated woman, happy to support my husband as he pursued his passion, happy to work at a job I loved, ready to become the Vice President of a corporation (never the CEO, always the Vice President in my fantasy) AND I wanted to stay home with my children and take care of them while my husband supported us successfully.

It must have been very confusing to my husband at the time who,  I think, mostly expected me to be the CEO of some corporation or another and support him while he worked on his novels.

Because I wasn't able to consciously access this dichotomy, we weren't able to talk about our expectations.  Instead my resentment and dissatisfaction grew.  He got a job a year after our son was born, but it didn't pay well enough to support us.  In the interim, I had begun tutoring to bring in a bit of income.  The tutoring turned into a well-paying gig which allowed me to work part time and earn enough to bring in about 50% of our income.  I enjoyed doing the work, but my heart felt wrenched each time I had to leave the house to go to work.  I was angry that I had to work.  I felt guilty that I couldn't stay with the kids.  I was mad that my husband didn't earn enough to support us.  He and I didn't talk about it, so I still don't know what he thought about it all.

Sadly, the resentment and disappointment, (along with myriad other issues, of course) caused rifts between us which were unbridgable by the love we'd once felt for each other.  We'd started out with common interests and passions, both intellectuals interested in a life of the mind, both artists intent on expressing ourselves in the world.  Out of ignorance and the desire to be a "good" wife and partner, I'd let go of my own rich inner life and striving for a successful life in the world and had begun expecting him to succeed enough for both of us.

It was not a good basis for a powerful partnership.

Unfortunately we ended up divorced.

The good thing about it, at least, was that, left to my own devices, I took up where I'd left off all those years before.  I began creating again - writing, photographing, painting, making things out of polymer clay, teaching, saying my mind.  I am once again empowered and clear and straightforward.  The things that attracted my first husband to me, and which I repressed, are there again.  My children have gotten to see me as a powerful woman who stands up for herself and her beliefs and rights.  That might not have been the case if I'd stayed married.  I don't know if I could have made that shift within the marriage as it had become.

When I got married to Chris, my wonderful second husband, I wasn't sure I could be an artist AND a wife.  Those same beliefs were still there, though they were more conscious.  Thankfully, Chris would have nothing to do with that nonsense.  Even as I would query whether I could continue to be an artist, Chris would take me down to the studio in the basement and ask me how I wanted the furniture arranged or he would buy me a flat file to store my work in.  Almost before I knew it, I was in my basement creating, longing to have a beautiful studio like I'd had in my previous house.  Chris supported me 150% in building a gorgeous space and in spending all the time I need to in there creating.  He has kicked loose the idiotic fears and beliefs I had that I couldn't love him fully and be a good partner AND be an artist.  My creativity actually enriches our marriage, as does my joy and satisfaction at doing what I should be doing in this life. 

If I weren't doing my art, I think this marriage would go the way my last one did.  I get so grumpy and cranky when I'm not creating, I snarl and complain and am not nice to anyone, much less myself.

Ida Turnbull was so accurate when she wrote almost 100 years ago, "There can be no great union where an individuality permits itself to be ruined....  No two people can work out a high relation if the precious inner self of either is sacrificed."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ida Tarbell: On the Business of Being a Woman (1914)

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm reading a terrific book called Hearts of Fire, by Kemp Battle.  Here's one of the selections from the book:

Ida Tarbell: On the Business of Being a Woman (1914)

     Not infrequently she is loath to encourage free expression because it seems to her to disturb the peace.  Certainly it does disturb fixity of views.  It does prevent things becoming settled in the way that the woman, as a rule, loves to have them, but this disturbance prevents the rigid intellectual and spiritual aatmosphere which often drives the young from home.  Peace which comes from submission and restraint is a poor thing.  In the long run it turns to revolt.  The woman, if she examines her own soul, knows the effect upon it of habitual submission to a husband's opinion.  She knows it is a habit fatal to her own development.  While at the beginning she may have been willing enough to sacrifice her ideas, later she makes the painful discovery that this hostage to love, as she considered it, has only made her less interesting, less important, both to herself and to him.  It has made it the more difficult, also, to work out that socialization of her home which, as her children grow older, she realizes, if she thinks, is one of her most imperative duties.
     A woman is very prone to look on marriage as a merger of personalities, but there can be no great union where an individuality permits itself to be ruined.  The notion that a woman's happiness depends on the man - that he must "make  her happy" - is a basic untruth.  Life is an individual problem, and consequently happiness must be.   Others may hamper it, but in the final summing up it is you, not another, who gives or takes it - no two people can work out a high relation if the precious inner self of either is sacrificed.


Tomorrow I'll share my experience with this issue...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I'm reading a terrific book which I found at the Trinity library.  It's called Hearts of Fire: Great Women of American Lore and Legend, by Kemp Battle.  It's a book containing 100's of tales about and by women.  The sections are titled:

The Hearth
   Family Life
A New Order Arising
   Frontier Journeys
   Breaking the Barriers
   Bad Girls
   Women and War
   Women of Faith, Women of Fire

It is a terrific compilation of writing about strong and powerful women and how they have lived over the centuries in America.  It addresses the legal and societal inequalities between men and women as well as the back-breaking work women have done throughout history to keep society functioning. 

Over the next few days I'll include some passages from the book which I have found particularly compelling.

As I read the book, I feel extremely grateful to the women who have come before me and made my life as I live it possible.  It also makes me feel empowered to continue to fight for rights where I see them lacking, for women, for minorities, for immigrants, etc.  These women feel like my forebearers, and the world is certainly a better place for their having been alive.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Artwork - Stardust

I think the name is changing as I paint it.
Not a lot of time to paint today - I got up early to go for a walk and wore myself out because I hadn't gotten in bed soon enough - then I had to work a couple of hours - very strange for Mondays - and I have a meeting tonight.  I sure feel grumpy when I don't have an uninterrupted day to work.

At any rate, I have a good first layer on most of the piece except for the pages of the book and her hair.  She has some dimensionality.  Her expression is not right.  The chair looks good to me.  The background needs to be darker.  I'm having fun!

Time to go get ready for my meeting and have some dinner.  Hope you're having a great day!

Monday, May 3, 2010

The bared left breast

I don't know if you've already heard and already rolled your eyes or not, but get ready to if you haven't yet.  Mr. Cucinelli, our illustrious state's Attorney General, recently issued his staff lapel pins with the state seal of Virginia on them.  Rather than being the normal version of the seal which looks like this, however:

he gave them a version that looked like this:

It's a poor image, but maybe you can see that Virtus, or virtue, has on armor  now.  Apparently he was uncomfortable with that bared left breast.  I wonder what he would think of my artwork?!

 What others have failed to mention, though, is that Tyranny (the dude she's stepping on) is no longer conquered.  Now it looks like he's looking up at her a bit dazed but not particularly done in.  What exactly might Cuccinelli be trying to tell us with that part of the image?

From an article online come more details:

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said in a statement Saturday that the alternate Virginia state seal lapel pins issued to his staff were chosen for their historical significance.

Virginia's seal features the Roman goddess Virtus, or virtue, wearing a blue tunic draped over one shoulder, her left breast exposed. On Cuccinelli's pin, recently handed out to his staff, Virtus' bosom is covered by an armored breastplate. Cuccinelli joked in a staff meeting that it converts a risque image into a PG one.

He explained in the statement that many variations of the state seal were used before a uniform version was created in 1930. Cuccinelli said his design was one of these variations and he didn't feel the need to use the uniform version.

"I felt it was historic and would be something unique for my staff," Cuccinelli said.

He went on to say that his joke about "Virtue being a little more virtuous" was intended for laughs and downplayed the media attention it garnered.

"Now seriously, can we get on with real news?" he said.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

New York Times Article on bed head

It seems that make up and primping are becoming less important in a certain sector - though now we have to have the perfect bed head hair and make up that is perfectly awful.  (Thanks to my father-in-law for sending me this link!)