what’s in a name

giles doesn't know his name

Why would Giles think his name is Archie? I have been a fan of Archie Comics since I was seven-years-old and happen to have an Archie bobblehead doll that Giles loves to play with. He runs around the house carrying it, shouting, “Ah-chee, Ah-chee!”

One of my nicknames for Giles is “chonchy.” This is something our mom called my sister and I, one of her little pet names for us. I probably call Giles “chonchy” more often than I call him “Giles.” It’s possible that “Ah-chee” is his attempt at “chonchy.”

I wonder what his friends will call him. What all the nicknames of his life will be.

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59

sep 4, 2017

Today, September 6, 2017 would be my mom’s 59th birthday if she were still alive.

When I think about being a mom, my own role as Giles’ mom, I think a thousand times a day what my own mama would think about how I am doing. How would she do this or that…and especially the light on her face as she would hold Giles, play with him, talk with him.

Grief doesn’t go away. You don’t move on. Sometimes I know how to hold it and sometimes I don’t.

I put Nina Simone on for Giles’ nap today. Her voice, cool and deep and full– music seems to be Giles favorite thing, the thing that fills his heart. Well, that and food. And books. And balls. And laughing. He loves it all.

Mama was the most alive person I knew. Until Giles. He is so very alive.

She is in his eyes. She is somewhere in him.

Viola Rose Moriarty would be 59 today. She was an artist. Her life was her best art. She was my mom.

From her blog, April 4, 2010:

Today I called my family in Denver to wish them a Happy Easter. We had coffee with the NYTimes and sportsreporters and Ina…the Sunday morning slow start. Ahhhh…….

And then we finally pulled on some work clothes and got started.

We worked on our list of home chores, taking care of the live things first. Toilet scrubbing and floor washing and paying bills and writing thank yous and making donations, both in things to pass on and in the checks we could write now. We prepped for the week and cleaned the fish tank and the litter box and filled bird feeders and cleaned out the gardens, watered and fed the plants, finally making lists for things that can’t be done today and how much we’ll need to fix or do them later—all the little and big maintenance things that keep a home running.

Today we “counted” the chickadees starting their nest in the little house just outside our backdoor as they do every spring, and the forsythia’s first yellow blooms. We counted the garlics and crocuses and bits of herbs and bulbs that all made it through another winter. They survived and so did we. We tested the fish tank water and put out the bird baths.

And then we had a good salad for an early dinner and went to a movie at our arthouse theatre where we are members.

I love this feeling of participating in my life, of doing it together with Jon. Of making a home.

Foundation in lovingkindness. We do the best we can for all who reside here with us and around us.

This “making a home” stuff– this is where I feel most like my mom. More even than making art. I am making a home, participating in my own life. Foundation in lovingkindness.

Happy birthday, Mama. I love you.

dads

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I have a really great dad. He’s always been there for me and my sister, has always been loving and fun and patient and kind. I always loved when he’d pick me up from the train station and we’d have that long car ride together, talking about everything that was going on in our lives. I have never had to doubt for one moment that my dad is proud of me and loves me. That is a truly wonderful (and too rare) thing. And now he is a grandfather, “Poppy,” to my son, and they are best buds. Giles smiles so big when Poppy walks into the room. They have this sweet connection, something really special, that I know they will always share.

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When Greg and I first started dating I said to him, “I want to have kids. Soon.” He responded with something like, “Okay, cool.” Once we were engaged I said I wanted to start trying for a baby as soon as we got married. Again, Greg agreed, probably thinking it would take awhile to actually make one of those tiny human things. But, low and behold, we got pregnant on the first try. And from the first moment Greg has stepped into his role as Dad so beautifully and completely. Watching him and Giles together makes me fall in love with him more every day.

Thank you Pops, for always loving me and supporting me and taking care of me, and for being my friend. Thank you Greg, for being our kid’s dad, you’re so damn good at it. I love you both so much.

So, here’s to the dads. And the moms who have to be both mom and dad to their kids. And to the people who’ve lost their dads. And the dads who’ve lost their kids. And to the surrogate father figures, and those who struggle with dad relationships. Love to all of you.

painting

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I’ve recently started painting with acrylics, and I love it! My mother-in-law gave me her late father’s art supplies, which included a set of acrylic paints, an easel, and a pad of paper pallets (kind of like wax paper that you can use as a paint pallet). I got some canvas boards and started playing around, and fell in love very quickly.

There’s something about painting: using brushes, the squishy paint, playing with color and light, the amount of time it takes…it’s meditative and fun and physical. It connects me with my mom. I’ve always preferred pens and markers, but now I really understand the pull of paint.

I’ve been doing a lot of still lifes, and some portraits and self-portraits. Inspired by my sister I am making comic paintings– this is what I am most excited about. My new thing. I remember so clearly as a kid seeing this print hanging in the condo of a family friend:

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Drowning Girl, by Roy Lichtenstein

Something really attracted me about this. And even though it’s been many years since I’ve seen it, it stuck with me. That’s how it is with the best art– those special pieces that stay with you, stitched into your mind.

I’m really excited to make more comic paintings. There’ll be an exhibit at Images Cinema in August.

mother’s day and a one-year-old

May 6 to May 14, it’s been a full week.

First, Giles turned one whole year old. I cannot really believe that it’s been a year since that long 30 hour experience of giving birth. It felt so endless that it seems impossible that I am not still in the hospital room, pushing and pushing and pushing. I can no longer remember the exact feeling of the pain, but I remember my reactions to it. My body has changed many times. Presently: my breasts are empty which is a strange feeling, my tummy is soft with less wrinkles and a bit of strength underneath, my arms are strong from lifting a growing baby, my linea negra is still faintly there and stretch marks too. I am smaller, stronger, more able and better feeling. I do not “have my body back” because that is not a real thing. I have my new mom body, which still changes every couple weeks, but has finally become something I understand (I think).

Giles has changed too. He is standing, crawling, walking while holding onto something. He laughs, chatters in baby talk, says “mama” and “dada” and something that almost sounds like “ball.” He has personality, likes and dislikes, a sense of humor. He loves to dance. He eats almost everything we give him, though he has preferences depending on the day. He has friends. He is more than three times the size he was at birth.

And now, at one week past his birthday, it is Mother’s Day. Last year we spent the holiday in the hospital with 2 day old Giles, still so new, learning how to breastfeed. Now I am done breastfeeding. Now I am a mother on my second Mother’s Day and the fifth Mother’s Day without my own mom.

It’s a complicated day. “Complicated AF” as my friend Ashley says. So true. I am so happy, so full of joy to celebrate being Giles’ mom. And then there is this hole, this cold feeling, tears behind my eyes and knots in my stomach. I miss my mom. I want to make her a card, talk to her, dance with her, help her in the garden or do whatever other chores she wants me to do. I want to have brunch with her and Giles, make waffles in her kitchen, watch her hold him and play with him and talk to him in Spanish.

There’s a lot of things I want but can’t even say.

There’s an envelope in my jewelry box (my mom’s jewelry box which is now mine). It’s a letter from Mama, for me to read when I had a child (or didn’t). I read that letter as soon as I found out I was pregnant, and a few more times since then. I haven’t read it today yet.

Greg and Giles brought me breakfast in bed and the sweetest card. They gave me a truly great Mother’s Day. I also have to make room for the sadness. Joy and grief live together now and always will.

 

4 years

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This photo of Mama was taken in April 2012, at my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah, a year before she died.

It cuts me how impossible it is that she is dead now, that she died a year after this photo was taken. Despite the bald head, or even because of it (she looks so strikingly beautiful with her bald head), she is so alive here. She was a bit weak, yes, couldn’t stay up too late at the party. But we danced. We swam in the hotel pool. We put on red lipstick.

But it also cuts me how we knew, a little bit, and maybe unconsciously, that our time was limited. I had this constant pain just above my stomach from her fist cancer diagnosis in 2007 until she died in 2013. A tiny pain, subtle and not always noticeable, a tight knot. For three months in 2010 everything I ate made me sick. I went to a doctor about it and she told me nothing was physically wrong.

It’s still a shock  most mornings, that she is not here. Sometimes she is alive in my dreams and everything is normal. In these dreams she has been sick but recovered and I feel such great relief that she is okay. Then I wake up.

Giles doesn’t get to know her except in stories. This is a huge gap, a thing he is missing and will be missing his whole life. She would have been a wonderful grandmother (Meme, as she wanted to be called), a great friend, a huge presence for him.

I’ve always said I have no regrets. Mostly this is true. But there are some living in my shadow, in the back corners of my brain.

I’m angry. I’m also sad, scared, some other feelings I don’t know how to name.

It doesn’t get better. It will never be better. It will just be life. Good and bad at the same time. Heartbreak and joy.

I don’t know what else to say. I have a lot of things to say.

 

 

 

my mom, my mom, my mom

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Seeing my tulips come up– the floppy green leaves and thick stems which have survived several frosts since that warm week in February when they started poking up through the ground– I think of Mama in her garden. My dad has always been a gardener too, they worked together to create the combination of flowers and herbs that surround their house. There are early spring flowers which flow into summer ones, then late summer, then fall. Except for winter, there are always flowers. The mint overtakes one area, a mix of spearmint and chocolate mint which Phoebe chomps on every time she passes it. Garlic. Basil. Soft oregano which the sweet cat Dulcinea sleeps in on a sunny day.

These tulips are really the first thing I have grown myself. I’ve had herb gardens, but never started any plants from scratch before now. My dad and I planted the bulbs last fall, digging up a couple small flower beds by my front walk.

I’ve never really been much of a green thumb, the only one in my family who wasn’t really interested. I didn’t like to cook either. But those loves have grown in me over time. In the cookbook she and my dad made for my sister and me, Mama wrote, “One of you is already a cook and the other promises (without knowing it) to be one someday.”

Every time I walk out my front door or come back inside I say hi to the tulips, checking in on how they are. I say to Giles, “Look at our tulips!”

In six days it will be four years since Mama died.

In 24 days Giles will be one year old.

Things are growing, I am getting stronger, my broken heart breaks and breaks and heals in new ways. Nothing is the same.

The words, “my mom, my mom, my mom” repeat in my head. “I want my mom.”

until the last minute

From my mom’s blog:

…Right now I’m starting to see myself in some new ways:  forgetful and distractable beyond the fog I’d come to know through chemo, radiation, whole brain radiation, radiosurgery and more radiosurgery.  I’ve started to hear my husband and children say things like “Mama, you really did know about that, you just forgot”  more often than ever before. I’ve gotten lost and damaged trying to find a path I use every day….I need help in ways I didn’t think I’d ever accept. I run into things.  I have numb pain from toe to waist on one side.  My head hurts.  I’m so cold.  Then I’m hot.  I’m not allowed to roast the chiles alone anymore.  I use a coffee pot that turns itself off so I don’t burn down the house.  I make brutal decisions about time and energy.  I ask my friends to walk with me, or to sit for me in exchange for my poor company. To give me healing or massage. Mostly I ask them to either paint with me,  or leave me to paint. Often I refuse most food I don’t make. I’m spending my grant money on a sink for the studio and a bed easel so the days I can’t walk down the stairs or just can’t get out of bed, I can still work.  A woman to drive me to drawing groups.  Paint and tubes,,,adding up how much I think I can actually use over the next few months.?  Now they don’t call me a survivor, or cancer clean, or any of those things.  THey tell me I’ll always be STage 4:   Stage 4 metastatic cancer with metastesis to the brain, CNS, around most organs….The only place I don’t seem to have breast cancer is in my breasts–but that may have changed, too. Tenacity is my other name. I ask for help, and I ask for understanding.  I am compassionate to old and infirm people in an even more profound way as I bumble through the woods…

But the main thing that scares me is that my energy level is dropping.  I’m tired.  I’m tired inside and if I think about it more than a second it brings tears to my eyes.   I’m desperate inside and I cry out in my head to all the dead women painters I love so much: Lee, Alice, Joan, Georgia, Frida, and to some men painters, too, Eduard, Pierre, David, Wayne, Elmer…..oh, please, everybody help me have the strength to make great work until the last minute.  Help me work, study, think, hold my brush…set up my easel—which way do the knobs go? Righty tighty, lefty lucy. I still have this fiery desire to make my work.  Even drawing boxes to learn linear perspective feels like achieving a goal, gessoing and sanding boards feels like living the dream.  And when I put brush in paint to board I know myself again, still, more deeply…that lets me know I am still here…

And to Life, I add, please help me to choose deep time with my husband and daughters, with my family and my soul friends.  Help me make the most of what is left of my energy.  Give me my husband’s love and help me not think of what it will be to go somewhere without him driving me, without him loving me.

 I’m tired inside and if I think about it more than a second it brings tears to my eyes.   I’m desperate inside and I cry out in my head to all the dead women painters I love so much: Lee, Alice, Joan, Georgia, Frida, and to some men painters, too, Eduard, Pierre, David, Wayne, Elmer…..oh, please, everybody help me have the strength to make great work until the last minute.

Love is all there is:  loving the work and loving the ones who share my life.

I now give away things each week, wrap up projects….organize the chaos so my family won’t have to.  I write the letters my daughter asks me for her wedding and when she has a baby.  I remind my daughters and my loving husband that I am on their side—always.  I arrange to make a trip home to Denver to connect with my family and friends.  How many kisses do you want I always ask my youngest nephews and they almost always say 100.  I ask for a million.  A trillion.  I always want more.

I see myself now as a weeping woman who is walking toward the door now, not with arrogance or tenacity or attitude but stooped with humility and deep tiredness, begging for a little more love, a little more work done, a little more time……

Viola Moriarty, 14 October 2012

This was written 6 months and 4 days before she died. I didn’t know then how close we were to the end. But it’s there, in her words:

I’m tired inside and if I think about it more than a second it brings tears to my eyes. I’m desperate inside and I cry out in my head to all the dead women painters I love so much: Lee, Alice, Joan, Georgia, Frida, and to some men painters, too, Eduard, Pierre, David, Wayne, Elmer…..oh, please, everybody help me have the strength to make great work until the last minute.

Today is March 24. In 25 days it will be April 18, the four year anniversary of my mom’s death. It is four years, a marriage, and a new human life since she has been gone. I don’t understand it. And yet it’s my whole life. I live inside this fact.

Love is all there is:  loving the work and loving the ones who share my life.

I repeat this in my head. Watch my baby on the monitor as he breathes in and out, steady in his sleep. Paint, draw, write. Dance with my husband in the kitchen.

I don’t know why I’m sharing this today in particular. But here it is. Trying to make my own great work until the last minute.

business

I have worked a lot of jobs. At age eighteen I went to college to study theater, writing, comics, and dance, with the dream that I’d make it work somehow– I’d find a way to make a living at this crazy thing called Art. So I never committed myself to a full-time job. I worked multiple part-time jobs at once, scrounging for any little bit of time to draw and write. I drew comics in the box office and the projection booth at move theaters. I wrote short stories in emails to myself at receptionist desks. I sketched on the subway, worked on story ideas at babysitting gigs after the kids went to bed, wrote in diners at 6am. I lived close to the bone, making just enough money to survive.

While living in New York City I walked around to comic book shops asking them to sell my little self-published mini comics, and got feedback from store owners about how to make them look more professional. I modeled for life drawing classes. I submitted to short story competitions. I volunteered at MoCCA Fest in exchange for a couple hours of table time selling my comics. Any small way to make a tiny amount of dough from my art.

March 1st marks my one year anniversary of being “self-employed.” I quit my job to be a full-time artist and stay-at-home mom (we need a better term for this). So, how do I make money?

The short answer is that I don’t make very much. I am fortunate to have a partner who believes in me, believes in my work as an artist, and takes on the responsibility of supporting our family financially. This is the first time I have not supported myself completely since college. It’s hard sometimes, to reconcile this fact in my head, that my husband supports me financially.

But the truth is, if I were to go work at a job I wouldn’t make enough to pay for daycare or to make it worth it to not be home with my baby. And I would likely be sad and unfulfilled. So instead, I stay home and take care of Giles, which is a very important contribution to our family. And twice a week my mother-in-law takes care of him at her house so I can do my artwork.

Art Work. It is really, really wonderful that my only work (besides being a mom) is making art. It is also really hard. In the first couple months of Full-Time Artist Life I made just as much money as I did at my previous job. I taught a comics workshop, sold a few commission portraits, sold some drawings from an exhibit. Art income often comes in windfalls like that– for a few months I will sell a bunch of things, and then there will be long dry spells.

These are the ways I make money:

Teaching: this is relatively new to me. Last year I taught a five week Autobiographical Comics workshop for adults at a local art school. I am about to start teaching another workshop with the same school. This is a really nice way to make some money, the highest hourly wage I have ever been paid in my life– about $25/hour. It’s also inspiring, working with students and seeing their ideas and growth. A great way to make money in my field that is truly connected to what I love. It’s also a lot of work, and takes time and energy away from making my own things.

Commissioned Portraits: this is something I’ve been doing for a while. I don’t get a lot of commissions. Most art from people I know, friends and family. On my Etsy site I offer portraits, holiday cards, and invitations. Commission work can be tricky– early on I learned to be very clear with customers about what I do, what my style is, and that I will not copy the work or style of other artists. I change my prices pretty often, never sure of how much to charge, balancing how much I value my time with how much someone will realistically pay me.

Exhibits: these can be great or not so great. It’s a lot of work (and often expense) to put up a show and there’s no guarantee that I’ll sell anything. It can be fun, and it sure feels good to sell work off the wall. It can also be disappointing, and exhausting to smile and make small talk at openings, to hang and rehang work, to sell myself. My favorite part about doing exhibits is when someone I don’t know responds to a piece I made, and especially when they buy it.

Selling Other Stuff: I also make and sell t-shirts, tote bags, cards, etc. This is more intermittent, for example, when I have a specific idea for a shirt design and enough money to make a bunch of them up front. Then I sell them on my Etsy site until they run out. Shirts are hard because I never know how many of each size to print ahead of time, and often end up with leftover sizes that no one wants. Because of this, sometimes I will wait to actually print the shirts until I have several pre-orders. Cards are the easiest because they are cost-effective (they aren’t expensive to make, so I can charge less and still make a small profit. I’m a big believer in affordable art).

My ultimate goal is to get an agent and a publisher and have my comic books and short story collections published and for sale at stores. To contribute financially to my family and have lots of people read my work. The way that I am making this happen is by putting my work out into the world any way I can. Posting my comics on my blog, selling at indie comic conventions, submitting stories to magazines– just putting it out there and putting it out there. I am a big believer in doing things myself. I don’t like to rely on other people’s approval. If I can’t find someone else to publish my comics, I make them into books myself and find a way to sell them. I just keep going, keep making the work, keep sharing it, and things will happen.

Other artists make their livings in different ways, have different methods and different measures of success. This is how I work.

I’d like to give a special shout out here, to my dad. I often write about my mom on this blog, and how she is part of my artistic life. But my dad has always supported me– emotionally and creatively, even financially when I’ve found myself in a tough spot. He is the BEST exhibit hanging partner, audience member, and starred in an early short film I made. He may claim to be the non-creative person in our family, but he is an artist in life, in his own work, and in being a dad. I owe him a lot. So, thanks Pops. I love you.