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:

Roy_Lichtenstein_Drowning_Girl.jpg
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.

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.

self-portrait in towel

self-portrait-in-towel

I’m changing every day. My body, my mind. I have muscles in my arms from holding Giles as he gets bigger and bigger. I weigh almost the same amount as I did six weeks postpartum, but I feel strong and good most of the time. My periods are heavy and painful (no one told me before that postpartum menstruation is its own monster), but I’m used to them now. My milk production is slowing down. I cry at the slightest provocation by commercials or songs or how every night at dinner Giles seems just a little more grown up.

We’ve started formula. Giles drank it up without hesitation. I cried during the first feeding, but also felt a little bit free. I can see the finish line of having my body back, of my breasts getting smaller, of no more nursing bras, of no more pumping…of letting go of breastfeeding. It’s a freedom, and it’s sad too. It’s our special connection, our thing that no one else is part of. But we’ll find other things.

My hair is longer. I am less tired than I was a few months ago (still tired, just not as overwhelmingly so). It’s amazing how it really does get “easier,” although “easier” is the wrong word. It gets “different,” just like with anything. It changes. I know Giles better, and he knows me better. He starts to become a functional person– sitting up, crawling, kneeling next to the box of toys and picking out what he wants, pulling up to standing. He says “Mama” and “Dada” and other increasingly complex talking sounds. He and my dad have their own language– staring and smiling and making funny sounds at each other.

My grief continues to get “different,” and not at all easier. Missing my mom is part of my day, part of everything I do. Giles’ eyes have taken on a quality that her eyes had. It strikes me sometimes. He will look at a photo of her hanging on the wall and smile with recognition. He stares at her paintings and pumps his arms with excitement. I cry and cry. Sometimes I feel lost. Sometimes I am okay.

 

 

 

songs

Even in utero my baby loved music. When I played ukulele or guitar, the instrument pressed against my belly, he’d kick and roll. At a Bruce Springsteen concert he went nuts during Because The Night.

Yesterday I was playing around on the ukulele while Giles jumped in his bouncer. His face lit up watching my fingers on the strings and the sounds they produced. Using three simple chords I started making up lyrics, singing to that smiling face. Somehow I wrote a song. And then another one.

They are simple, and recorded on Garage Band during nap time (you might be able to hear faint crying in the background):

In many ways my creative energy has been channeling itself into being a mom. Making each day special and fun and productive with little Giles, watching him develop and trying to help him learn things. Surviving (and even thriving?) on way too little sleep. I’ve even been learning to cook new dishes, doing house projects, organizing and reorganizing closets and shelves until finally someday (I hope) the towels/blankets/sheets/napkins/etc. will fit just right and even look cool or whatever. My Life is my Art, and this has always been true but is true in a new way now that I’m a mom.

Once a week I have art time for a few hours while Greg’s mom takes Giles. This is a gift, to have this time. And while a lot of my art is about being a mom, I haven’t found a way to make art with Giles. When he’s older we will do projects together, and I look forward to that. But then I wrote those songs yesterday. I made something, some art, with my baby, and it’s also something for him. He brought it out of me. I had never written a song before, but it’s something I’d been wanting to do ever since I taught myself to play guitar almost six years ago. Giles opened the door.

Having a baby deepens my art in ways I don’t even know about yet.

 

the women in my family get breast cancer

the women in my family 1

the women in my family 2

I know getting a mammogram doesn’t really mean I will get diagnosed with cancer. I know this. Getting mammograms regularly and doing self exams is how they would diagnose breast cancer early enough that my survival chances would be much better. And maybe I will never get cancer, that’s also a possibility.

But still.

I think I will always be waiting for that shoe to drop, in the back of my mind. Grasping on the edge of fear every time my breasts are squished between two glass plates, worrying that this mammogram might be The Mammogram. Every time I prod my breasts with my fingers in a circular pattern, dreading the possibility of A Lump.

I know that I am not guaranteed to get breast cancer.

But still.

I’m really scared that I will. That my body will betray me. That my son will sit with me at chemo, shave my head for me, make me radiation mix tapes, hear me vomit in the middle of the night and lie awake with the terrible knowledge that his mama might die. That he’ll have to live un-mothered too young.

I want to live to be really, really old, with Greg at my side reminding me where my glasses are, getting to watch our children grow up. I want to live at the beach. I want to LIVE. Live, live live. Grow to a ripe old age. Mother my children, love my husband, document and process my experiences through art, watch all the movies, eat all the popcorn, dance with my sister, howl at the moon, love it all.

portraits of women i know

Women friends are very important to me. These portraits are mostly of local ladies who’ve come into my life in the past 5.5 years, with the exception of “Phoebe” who is my sister and has always been my best friend. Each of these women is beautiful and does important work for their community. Each of them is an artist (with food, animals, the land, plants, homemade beauty products, pottery, sewing, books, printing, photography, movies, drawing, painting, dancing, love, life). Each of them has touched my heart. Each of them inspires me. Each of them sat in front of me and let me look at them and translate what I saw onto paper.

(click on each image to see it larger.)

I’ll hopefully be exhibiting these somewhere at some point in the fall or winter.

drawing while moming

This is the first drawing I made after giving birth:

phoebe & smokey.jpeg

I drew it from a photo taken of my sister cuddling with Giles on the couch. It feel so good to start doing art while being a mom since for the first few weeks I just focused on mom-ing. It’s a beautiful thing to fully be a mom, at home with Giles, completely in the moment with him. But it’s also important for me to find a way to do both art and parenting. I want to find my own way of doing this, of doing both things and letting them inform each other.

Several years ago a person I worked with said to me, seeming to read my mind, “When a woman artist has a child, it deepens her art.” At the time I was 23 or 24, already knowing I wanted this life. That statement feels even more true now that I am here.

My first portrait of Giles:

first giles portrait

Giles is right next to me as I post this, cozy in his Rock N Play, sucking on his pacifier, watching me.

eating, eating all the time

eating

As soon as I finish eating, I want to eat again. I don’t know if it’s the baby getting bigger in these last weeks, needing more calories, or if it’s just comfortable to eat a bunch of small things one after the other all day. Eating right before bed helps me to rest. I don’t really sleep much, but I can stay in bed longer in the morning if my stomach isn’t growling. I don’t think a lot about what I’m eating further than what feels right in the moment. It’s all I can do. Sometimes if I see a picture of something, like pancakes, then I HAVE TO HAVE PANCAKES as soon as possible. Or the baby will tell me what he wants, which is often cheese or toast or popcorn or something sweet but undefinable.

rocking chair

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Last weekend we brought this rocking chair from my dad’s house to our apartment. It’s the same rocking chair my parents rocked me in when I was a baby, and now we’re going to rock little Smokey in it.

I don’t know when they got it, or where from, but it’s traveled from house to house, and across the country with us. It used to be a shiny finished wood, which my mom sanded down and painted a dark teal. Now that paint is faded and scraped, so maybe we will sand it down again and paint it a new color. The pillows on it were covered by my mom with scraps of velvet and painted fabric from a studio she worked at one year.

It’s April now. In 10 days it will be the 18th, the three year anniversary of my mom’s death. I don’t know what it will be like this year. Three years into this new life, and it feels like she should still be here. I dream about her a lot lately– as if it’s regular life, and she’s just here, doing things with me. Last night I dreamt we were planning a trip to Europe together. When I wake up it’s hard to remember that these things didn’t really happen. I walk around all day with a strong sense of missing. I keep falling into the hole.

I don’t want anyone to say, “She’s with you.”
I don’t want anyone to say, “She’s watching over you and the baby.”
I don’t want anyone to say, “She loves you, she’s proud of you.”

I don’t want anyone to say anything about my relationship with my dead mom.

You could tell me about a dream you had about her, or a place you were in that reminded you of her. You can tell me you feel her with you, or a story from when she was alive. You can tell me about the kick-ass cowgirl boots she helped you pick out, or a painting of hers that hangs in your home. Tell me you think of her. Tell me you miss her. Tell me a joke she told you.

If I choose to, I’ll tell you how I feel.