Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Why I love Ojai

At my book presentation in Ojai, I remembered one of the joys of writing--connection. I write in solitude, or at cafes, while waiting for a bus, before a yoga class begins, other places where people drift by, but I'm alone in my remembered worlds. The act of discussing my process and engaging others in their writing practice, is the icing atop the pleasure of producing good work.

I had a deeply satisfying weekend at the Oaks Spa. Yes, I was at a spa. . .healthy meals, gorgeous landscape, relaxation. But as I often find when traveling, the best of everything is in the people I talk with. This weekend it was on three-mile early a.m. walks, at the class I gave, while sharing meals (poolside, I can't help but add).  And, too, there were the perfect bursts of time, when I was solidly in the present moment.

To the right is a photo of Meditation Mount, a serene, lush place where I sit and realize the wonder of my life. My concerns at home--finding more work, a loving mate--slipped away. Not everyone gets to do this, I thought, gaze at a mountainous terrain. I was grateful to be grateful.

This moment I'm back at home. The a/c is off and sweat collects on my forehead. My view is of concrete, sprouts of green, and one gentle tree with fat leafy branches. The view behind that view is of possibility and options.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Painting the summer

I want to tell you that I improved in last night's painting class, that practice makes better. Alas, that would be a lie. Practice, perhaps, makes better in the long run; but my short run experience was frustrating. Painting the nude, without first sketching, and using hard-to-control paint is difficult for the best of painters. I, a mere, beginner, should be at a loss. And so, I learn another lesson to bring to my writing students--sometimes it feels lousy to produce bad work--no matter the circumstances.

This morning I climbed up into my closet where all my creative tools and endeavors are stored, knitting needles, fabrics, hat forms, hair clips, and what I looked for--an old (cheap) watercolor paint set and bristle brush. They're twenty years old, but those flat pans of paint are still viable. My first thought--if I'd only remembered in time, I could have saved a bundle on the new (pricey) paints and brushes I purchased. My second--don't go to that place of regret. I'll take a command from Tim Gunn from Project Runway,  I'll "make it [all] work."

Ah--regret nothing. If only. Summer spins me back to girlhood yearnings, humid days of eternal want. I remember restless summers in the Catskills, that age between girl-child to girl-woman, looking over fences and into keyholes with my friends, taking in bits of our future.

Internal/external landscapes. Today I put color and visual shape to my words and worlds.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


My watercolor class continues to perplex and challenge me. During last night's class, my teacher didn't teach. Must be a new methodology, the student to my right wryly whispered. I was glad that she, too, noted a situation that would normally get me riled up--a teacher who checks his phone, his sketch pad, his files, but does little that could be interpreted as instructor-ish. There was a model, a sink, tables for us to set up, a gritty paint stained studio, and time--three hours. Time to figure things out, to observe others, to demurely say to said teacher, can you help me? (he somewhat did). I made primitive, childlike art, didn't complain (to anyone other than wry student to my right), relaxed, played, didn't rewind all the injustices I'd incurred since birth.

And so it goes. I'm studying a subject I'm terrible at. In a Zen sort of way, this feels like a good practice. Writing and teaching--it's not that I know everything, but I can find my way. I take my skills for granted. Painting requires one hundred percent focus, acceptance of how little I should know, considering my beginner status, patience.

Later today I'll go to school where I'm teaching two fiction classes. This is a blessing for summer school, for I love teaching literature. On Tuesday we read "An Appointment in Samarra" by Somerset Maugham, an eerie fable (but then, they all seem to be). I sent my students home to write their own fables. They looked at me the way I looked at my teacher--you're not going to tell me how? One student balked when I reassured them the stories aren't being graded. Why bother? he asked. Practice, a  student answered (bless her heart). Yes, we can all benefit from practice.

A few days later, an exercise in wet-on-wet that I'm practicing from Deb Watson's video.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Dear students,

When we meet next week, I'll tell you not to worry about writing well...just write. I'll give you an assignment and ask you to put words on the page and bring them to class. I'll hope you'll do the work. I'll tell you: listen to feedback, revise, keep writing, you will get better. I'll invoke Anne Lamott's famous testament to the "shitty first draft." When (if) you don't understand my assignments, trust that I'll feel your pain.

My first class in Watercolor Techniques did not go as expected. There were no bowls of fruit or vases of roses to paint. There were very few flat-out beginners (one, to be exact) who'd never held a paint brush (well. . .since fifth grade). There was no instruction as to how much water to mix with the colors and whether to start with water and add color or vice versa. There was just this: a model, thirty busy watercolorists, and a teacher who smiled and told me my grade was D. He said to play. I put paint on the page. I made a mess, at first by accident, and later, when I accepted there was no reason I would know what to do, I made a mess on purpose. I kept going. Expensive page of sketch paper after expensive page of sketch paper.  Today I watched two youtube videos on watercolor; I spread out all my supplies; I painted. I made the sky pink and yellow, the mountains blue. I attempted a house.

Dear students: I reveal to you my shitty first drafts from last week's class. They are paintings of a slender man with dark hair, seated on a chair. Take heart. We will all get better.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Getting into color

This week of vacation is an opportunity to do all sorts of things normally on my back burner. . .relax, play tennis, catch up on movies, write. . .and here is where I falter; I want writing to be on the front burner, but it absolutely refuses to be.

Instead of baring my heart in black and white type, my feelings appear before me in great washes of color. My palette awaits; tonight I take my cadmium this and prussian that,sketch pad, brushes and assorted other tools to a watercolor class. I've wanted to paint for years, but my fingers on the keyboard have trumped such creative yearnings. I needed verbal release; I also needed the rush of publication, the direct hit to my need for validation that being published provides.

Since revising my book, I haven't felt like writing. It's not that I've completely figured myself out or overcome my need for those rushes and hits. It's the internal process that keeps me from the keyboard. The thoughts that gather in my frontal lobe, that linger until I form the words that take them away from me. The solitariness of writing feels more uncomfortable than usual. I'd rather take a walk. Or make something I can touch.

I'm a purger; I easily throw away stuff because it takes up room. Clips of articles I once thought I'd never part with? Gone. College papers, so precious with their grammatical errors and triteness? Gone. Unpublished manuscripts from ten years ago? Gone. (But. . .I confess--saved on CDs somewhere in my closet.) Every drawing I ever did when I was a student at FIT? Saved. Every bow I made when I flirted with being an accessories designer? Saved.

And so I had the extreme pleasure yesterday of digging out my old sketch pads, fashion figures, bows, and lay them like a desk of cards.I present them--my perfectly imperfect paper dolls. Soon I'll take out my book on watercolor for beginners. I'll relax. Then I'll pack my supplies and go to class--excited, nervous, hoping I come home splattered with color.


Saturday, June 21, 2014


I'm going on a technology diet. No Internet for 24-hours. I've tried to tame the distraction-beast inside me, by having no i-this or i-thats. It's not enough. My PC connection has to go. I'll start with one day. (How hard can it be when I sleep a luxurious seven hours?) (TBD)

Outside my apartment, I'm never seen burrowing into my phone, shoulders bent, neck dangling (this is not because I'm old school, although I am). I'm never seen with fingers flying across a tiny device (again, not because I'm old school, ditto to "I am").

Dear friends who wait for me to "get with the 21st century" and i-up--i-can't. I carry inside myself a "distraction-beast" that is eating up the best of my life. At home. I cannot read four pages of a novel without checking email. I cannot write for more than ten minutes without checking email, Facebook (which I swore I would never be part of...), and researching--anything (cooking classes, art classes, facialists, how the brain works...ok, i-confess: old boyfriends.) Dear students: your persuasive research papers about the negative aspects of technology, were well done! I'm persuaded. I want my real-life (as opposed to reel-life) back.

When I don't write I don't see or think clearly. I don't grow. I post blog entries, and I love this writing exercise. I'm completely immersed in the task; for a reason I haven't figured, I check nothing. But I also reign myself in when I blog. I need to spill and splatter all over the page and stay with the messes for as long as it takes so that something deep and lovely can happen. Insight. Meaning. Universality, to the me me me-ness of writing of one's self.

I squirm when I pass people in the street staring into their phones. I have no right. I'm one of them, only I'm in my i-closet.  With the posting of this entry, I'm offline until tomorrow 7:20 a.m. I will live with myself and the myriad other distractions life offers up. (The drone of my TV tells me they will not be hard.)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

What is

Day four of sickness, caused (I think) by a student who sneezed and coughed all over my desk. Job hazard? Or...a case of no good deed goes unpunished? I wanted to tell said student to sit in the back of the room...or to not be in class (which I sort of did, but in the kindest of ways). I didn't want to embarrass him. And so, I watched as he cleared his throat, went through a box of tissues a mere inches from me...and I said, well, little to protect myself. (Confession: thinking it was an allergy, which maybe it is...I worked with colleagues yesterday...dear, all of you, good chance it is....) 

And so here I am. Stuffed, awake, and wishing it was 7:00 a.m., time for the next round of medicinals. Since losing my phone, and trying to find the silver lining in that, I'm again in search of it. But I'm too blurry at this moment to see it, or maybe there isn't one. Finding the good in bad can cover up the issues. Mainly: I'm not adept at taking care of myself in the classroom.

In my little MFA program which gave me the degree enabling me to teach, I didn't learn a thing about classroom survival. Another case in point: a student last semester who sat in front of me and held his head each and every class, as if in mortal pain. Do you know how lucky you are? I wanted to say. Students in other parts of the world would love to be in an air-conditioned class for an hour and fifteen, even if the teacher bores the hell out of them. But I did not; I rambled on about literary devices and how a thesis is not a question, and of course, the tedious run-on sentence.

I used to love to write in the early a.m. hours; now I find myself at the computer to vent, rant, say things of no possible use to anyone else, things that could even get me fired...if I don't carefully edit myself. This goes against all my beliefs about writing for a reader and my wish to never use a reader to unburden myself. Which brings me to searching for meaning to my messes, lessons in the mistakes I make daily as a flawed human.

Today I will cancel a movie and a Broadway preview. Which means, I'm able to see movies and Broadway previews. Not silver linings, but things to not take for granted. The small things in life are my cultured pearls. My diamonds. Today I will rest, be gentle to myself, ease into the view.