Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Preparing for my 35th High School Reunion - am I nuts?

It's the strangest thing - tomorrow I'll take off for my 35th high school reunion to see people I haven't seen in at least 25 years, some more than that.  I've gotten reacquainted through the magic of FB.  I look forward to the trip with lots of excitement and a bit of trepidation - what'll we talk about?  what'll they think of me?  What will I think of them?  Will we like each other?  Will there be cliques?  Will I fit in?

I'm starting to remember what it was like when I first went to high school there - I'd been in another high school in Norfolk, VA from 7th - 10th grades and was about to transfer to Culver Girls Academy in Indiana because my father had a new job there.  In Norfolk, I was sadly at the bottom of the popularity rung due to a most unfortunate accident - I'd had the audacity to faint - and to fall on a girl!  One of the guys in the class, someone who was in my carpool - yikes! - decided that meant I was a fag.  I had no idea what a fag was, but the way he said it over and over again, to everyone else in the class, made me know it was bad, and I was it.  I began walking around with my shoulders drooped, my head down, afraid to make eye contact with anyone for fear they'd laugh at me for being a fag.  I instantly lost whatever social standing I had had and was relegated to the depths of our 80 person class.  Boys began snickering behind their hands when I walked by.  Sometimes I'd find them stuffing notes into my locker.  I don't even remember what the notes said.  The humiliation of seeing them do it and laugh is all that remains with me right now.

Braces, glasses, a poor haircut, and the moniker of fag were all I needed to know I was lost for good.  The rest of seventh, eighth, and ninth grades were a blur as I scurried around hoping I wouldn't be noticed and worked to excel academically.  Thankfully I was successful in the latter endeavor.  I also found a friend in eight grade - a new girl - Julie.  I saw her the first day of school and knew I wanted to be her friend.  I saw her looking around a bit awkwardly and decided to get over my shyness and to speak with her immediately, before anyone could tell her I was a fag and turn her, too, against me.  We hit if off right away.  We became best friends.  She rode the same bus I did so we would sit next to each other on the bus and talk all the way home.  As soon as I got home, I called her up to talk another hour or so.  I've never been so happy to have a friend in my life!  I don't think I ever told her about my reputation, and thankfully I don't think she suffered from knowing me and liking me.  She told me later that, as the years progressed, our classmates matured and all became very close, even so much as to invite everyone in the class to parties, not just a select few.  I remember doubting that I would have been included even then, but I was glad to hear it for the rest of the rejected ones.

That was the context within which I was getting ready to enter Culver the middle of my tenth grade year.  I was absolutely delighted when my father told us we'd be moving and going to a new school where he'd be the Chaplain.  I was crazy about my dad, so it didn't bother me at all to be a student where he was the minister - I'd already had plenty of experiences being called "Minister's Daughter" and it no longer galled me.  Dad and I were set to drive up in January, leaving the rest of my family behind until the house sold, and so the two younger kids could finish out the school year before moving north.

Dad and I packed up the hard-topped jeep with our most vital possessions and headed to Indiana in the middle of the winter.  Thankfully I was working on knitting a shawl - it was the only thing that kept me warm as the wind whipped through the poorly sealed doors, windows, and top.  Dad loved that rugged car, but I was less enamored.  Nonetheless...  as we drove through Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, then entered Indiana, I knitted and purled and had time to think about how I wanted the next two and a half years to be.  I decided that it couldn't be a repeat of the previous three and a half or I'd be utterly miserable.  I'd just gotten contacts to replace my glasses and had gotten a nice haircut so I was feeling prettier. As I kept up the steady stream of stitches, it occurred to me that I could change my life - no one at Culver knew me.  My reputation couldn't precede me.  I decided with complete conviction that I was going to take Culver by storm!  I was going to love it, and they were going to love me.  I'd get there and be friendly and make friends right away.  I'd smile at everyone I saw and would be nice no matter what.  I would join clubs and speak up and love being there!  It was a solid decision and one I acted on right away, the minute I stepped out of the car.  I walked around the campus smiling broadly, happy to see people, and enthusiastic to get to know them.  I had the advantage of being one of very few new students at the semester, so everyone wanted to see who I was, and they were curious to see and meet my dad. 

Me at Culver
Within a few hours of arriving, I'd already been asked out on a date by Dad's Aide to the Chaplain, a very nice person.  Considering that I'd never been on a date with anyone from my school in Norfolk, that made me ecstatic!  My plan was working!  The next two and a half years truly were some of the happiest of my life.

As I think back to the young person I was in Norfolk, I feel great compassion for how lonely I was, how segregated I felt, how confusing it was to be called a name I didn't understand.  It was a lonely existence, made better only when I met a girl who didn't know to dislike me by reputation and who would give me a chance.  Culver was the best thing that had ever happened to me at that point.  I did, in fact, make many friends.  I joined every club that interested me, and then some.  I partook in classes with gusto.  I found people with whom I could connect.  But most importantly,  I think, I learned that I was a likeable, normal person, not a social pariha.  Deciding I would love my life made it so.  That is a lesson I use still.

As I've gotten older, and since I've learned what a fag is, I've also come to feel complete compassion for gays and lesbians for the horrors they go through as people taunt them and treat them horribly simply because they are who they are.  I have become a strong advocate for anyone who is experiencing oppression.  A student asked me the other day how I became an activist.  I told him I didn't become an activist consciously - it was simply a matter of choosing to name what I see and to not be willing to put up with it silently.  I know how it feels to suffer at the hands of people who feel superior to me for whatever reason, and I am not interested in playing that game.  Plain, pure, and simple.

So now I'm preparing to get in the car tomorrow to take that very long drive again, to a place I haven't seen in 25 years.   My shyness and reserve are feeling in high gear.  I'm so used to being alone in the studio most of the time that it's sometimes difficult to change gears and to be around a lot of people for long periods of time.  But I'm going to decide to have a great time, to smile at everyone I meet, to put myself out there, to be my authentic self, and to love getting to know these classmates all over again!  Culver, get ready, here I come!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Witnesses and busy weeks

I'm working on a new piece now called Witnesses.  It will consist of 2 5' x 1.5' canvases placed next to each other.  One of the canvases will have 4 faces on it.  The other will have 5. Each is a woman looking directly and intently at the camera, challenging the viewer to be with her direct gaze.  I plan to hang the picture across from "Get out of my vagina!" so that the viewer is automatically included in the group of powerful, empowered women witnesses, indicating that they see what is happening and are watching.  I hope to get the entire thing drawn on the canvas today and to perhaps even begin painting today.  That would make me happy!

I've been teaching so much and taking care of so many other logistical issues lately that I've barely spent any time in front of the easel.  I love teaching, but it isn't the reason I quit tutoring!  I quit tutoring so I could do MY art!  I'll be going away for 10 days beginning next week.  Part of that will be a 5 day retreat.  I plan to take the time to think about how to organize my time more effectively so I can continue to paint and draw full time and do the rest less of the time.  I'm finding it challenging to fit everything in, probably because I have such huge expectations of what I should be able to fit in.  There's so much I want to do and feel a need to do.  Here's what's involved in my life these days on the career side:

* re-doing my website from the ground up
* organizing another Beyond Barbie performance for June
* processing the last BB performance - money, etc.
* teaching four classes at three different locations- Beginning Drawing, Intermediate Pastels, Learn to Follow Your Bliss, and Zendoodles at VisArts, Crossroads, and my studio
* working with a client as a creativity coach
* tutoring one student in academic matters
* working to find new shows and opportunities to get my work out there
* hanging a show with my mother
* coordinating to hang some work in June at Gallery 5's Feminism show
* having a permanent display at Crossroads, keeping that fresh and interesting
* entering work in the bimonthly show at Crossroads
* having 2 pieces at VCU's Women's Studies Dept for the summer

It sure looks like a lot when I type it all out - no wonder I'm not at the easel as much as I'd like to be!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Books which have helped me Follow My Bliss

In preparing to teach my Follow Your Bliss class at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, I prepared a list of books I've found helpful to me as I've worked to do exactly what I feel led to do in the world and to make a living doing it.  I thought it might be a good thing to share.  I'm sure there are many other books I could include, but this is all I have in the studio right now!

Freeing the Creative Spirit: Drawing on the Power of Art to Tap the Magic and Wisdom Within by Adriana Diaz
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Walking in This World: The Practical Art of Creativity by Julia Cameron
I Could Do Anything if I only knew what it was by Barbara Sher with Barbara Smith
The Purpose of Your Life Experiential Guide: The Proven Program to Help You Find Your Reason for Being by Carol Adrienne
Living in the Light by Shakti Gawain
Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain
Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch
Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions of Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Writing down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
True Work: The Sacred Dimension of Earning a Living by Justine Willis Toms and Michael Toms
Marry Your Muse: Making a Lasting commitment to your Creativity by Ian Phillips
Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go by Shaun McNiff

Two others a friend just recommended:
Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow: Discovering Your Right Livelihood by Marsha Sinetar
Also What Color is Your Parachute?

My new website and website hosts

I've been working on updating my website the last few weeks.  I used to have my website with OfficeLive, part of MSN.  Then they wrote to let me know they'd be closing OfficeLive and transitioning to a new service with fees attached.  Bummer!  I'd been so satisfied with their service up til then, especially because it was free.

So I began researching other website hosts: Artspan.com, 1and1.com, GoDaddy (no way - their ads are way too sexist), GreenGeeks.com, and Wix.com.  I decided not to go with Artspan b/c their fees looked too high.  1and1 I'd been with before and couldn't really make heads or tails of their templates.  I loved GreenGeeks - their customer service was fantastic!  And their fees weren't too bad.  The only problem was that their template for non html-saavy people was terrible - clunky, slow, frustrating, and not sophisticated enough.  They have tons of Word Press plug ins you can use, but I couldn't figure out how to even begin with those, so I had to sadly bit adieu to them.  Darn it.  I really liked their service.  It only took me 30 seconds to reach a real live person who spoke English with an accent similar to mine.  They would have talked me through figuring out the Word Press, and I thought about doing that, but I really want to paint - not spend my time designing my website, so I canceled that service.

A friend told me about Wix.com.  She has done 3 websites with them and loves all they have to offer.  I checked it out.  They have tons of very easy templates which are perfect for pure beginners.  They offer a free site that has decent capabilities, but I decided to pay for more services so I can sell my work online as well.  So the last few weeks I've been working on transitioning into that new site - so much to learn!  I got frustrated as heck and left it for a week because I couldn't figure out how to get part of it to work.  Then today I took the time to start over almost from the beginning and managed to not make the same mistakes again.  After 9 hours of work, I have a website that is functional and manageable.  I have lots more to do - like including a shopping cart! - I haven't begun to figure out how to do that - but at least it's good enough for now!  Each set of software for each hosting site is different and takes hours to learn and probably months or years to master.  I'm glad to have this done!

If you're curious, you can take a look and let me know what you think:  www.susansinger.com.  I welcome feedback, especially if you find something which isn't working!

Friday, May 4, 2012

A week's worth of paintings

This week I've spent my days finishing up several paintings that had been languishing around the studio for months.  It's not like me to leave paintings unfinished, but with these, I kept getting things I was hot to start and finish - my self portraits, primarily - and interrupted myself with those.  Once I realized I had 6 paintings unfinished, I decided this would be the week I'd finish them.  Yay.

Here they are:
In the Woods was the one I finished today.  Sometimes my models want to pose in the woods just for the heck of it.  This woman seemed to love being out there feeling the air on her skin and exploring Nature.  This picture reminds me of the Mary Cassatt painting which the Virginia Museum owns. The composition with both reaching up for the tree branch, as well as the look of wonder in each of their eyes.  I love her joy!

This picture of Kate is one I did for the documentary Roberta Oster Sachs is working on about my work.  She wanted to have shots of me working with a model so Kate boldly agreed to be photographed being photographed and to have her painting in the movie as well.  It took me a long time to get around to finishing it, but, finally, here it is!  She's a beautiful woman, and it was interesting hearing her talk about how it was for her to model and be photographed and painted.  I think her participation will add to the documentary in lovely, wonderful ways.

I was wonderfully surprised in the middle of doing taxes one weekend to receive a phone call from CA from a man who'd seen my work online and was interested in commissioning me to do a couple of pieces for him.  He loved what he saw online but wanted larger images, so I took on the exercise of re-painting my sand, sea, and sky studies in oils, significantly larger.  The studies were small - 9"x6" - in pastel, so I wasn't sure how well I'd do blowing them up in another medium.  I started working on them about a month ago.  The first one went really well.  I put the paint on the palette and started applying it to the canvas with a nice, big brush.  I realized right away that that wasn't going to work for me, so I put on some latex gloves and scooped up globs of paint with my hands and smeared it on the canvas.  What joy and pleasure!  This is the picture that resulted:  Friday Morning Calm. 

After I finished that one, I started on the next one.  The gentleman who commissioned me to do the paintings had said he was planning to meditate in front of them and that he liked the energy differential between the two - Friday Morning Calm being very Zen-like and the other a bit more full of energy.  When I began painting the second one, I riffed on the idea of energy and went to town smearing paint and feeling the absolute pleasure of paint in my hands - like finger painting as a kid. I felt so happy!  I called Glenn to let him know I was done and sent him images of each.  (Ah, the ease of the internet!)  I was a little bit disappointed and a little bit glad when he said that Evoking the Beach (the second piece) wasn't what he had in mind.  Oh goodie- that meant I'd be able to keep it!  This month it's hanging at Glen Allen Cultural Arts Center in a show my mom and I are doing called At the Beach.  That works too!
So I began another piece for the commission, this time truer to the original.  I'd done the original piece when I got home from the beach one time as a color study, without looking at anything beach-like.  I actually hang it the other way around, but my client wanted the blue at the top, so I did it that way instead!  The picture went through several iterations before I got to the one we both liked a lot.  The picture on the left is the original pastel.  The right hand one is the new oil.  I tried doing a wobbly horizon line, but it just didn't work in oils.  I copied what I'd done in pastel as well as I could, but neither of us liked it particularly.  I was blessed in that the client wanted me to create something I loved, so I put away the original and went to town, getting into the Zen of the painting, and came up with a piece I really love now.  I hope he will too!  It's quite different doing a piece on commission than doing it just for myself because it's what's inside me that needs to come out.  This way there are two voices in my head - not just mine!  At its best, it's a terrific collaboration.  It certainly was this time around!

A friend of mine gave me some roses last weekend which reminded me of my grandmother's garden when I was a child.  I was captivated by the smell and the beauty of them so I rushed out to the studio first thing Monday to paint them in watercolor.  It isn't a medium I normally work in, so it was challenging, but it felt like the right medium to try to capture the delicate beauty of the rose petals and the beauty of the glass vase they were in.

This piece, Crone, is one I started months ago as a "blow out" piece - that means I just need to paint without any references and do whatever I feel like, letting it be ugly or harsh or whatever.  That painting was very different than this one.  After having that one around the studio for months, I decided one day to work it a bit more, so I got out a mirror and turned it into a self portrait - more or less.  My hair is nothing like this, but the face has my features.  I find when I do a self portrait from life, people tell me I look way older than I look in real life.  I'm not sure I highlight my most beautiful features, but it's the best, most accurate representation of myself I can manage. 

This is another piece based on photos I took at the beach on one of our trips.  It's called Silent Sound.  It's the sound just south of Avon, NC just after the sun went down and the glow was still on the water, but it was dusky, almost dark with ripples on the water and rose in the sky.

Now that I have just gone through all those pictures, I realize I'm going to have to get off my case - I so often feel like I don't get anything done during my days in the studio - perhaps because I'm enjoying it so deeply - and I feel dissatisfied.  Time to lighten up and feel good about this week!  And time to go in to dinner and to see my darlin' who's now home from work!  Have a great weekend!