Reading and Writing

Fashion Week, 2017
Fashion Week, 2017 encaustic on panel 24″ x 12″

I write, here, more often about drawing, painting, or some life things, than I do about writing.

I’ve been writing fiction for just over ten years. In that time I’ve learned a great deal. For starters I learned that I hadn’t a clue about writing fiction when I wrote my first novel. I made all the mistakes you’d expect of a first timer. In the second novel I made some of those mistakes and a few more. All during this time I was reading everything I could about the art of writing fiction. I stuffed so many things into my head that I was afraid to hold my pen, for fear of doing it wrong.

One thing about writers, they write. And when they aren’t writing their preferred genre of fiction or non-fiction they’re writing about writing. There is no shortage of writerly tutelage on the internet or in book stores. I would like to say I read them all, but that’s not possible. A new blog or book on writing pops up every day.

There is a lot to know about writing fiction, just as there is a lot to know about painting figures, but at some point its necessary to quiet down all those words–often competing ‘you should’ words–you’ve read. It’s time to put them on the back burner and figure out what you think. That’s what I’m doing and I have nothing to tell people about writing that someone else hasn’t already said better.

I’m currently revising a novella entitled Hannah’s Hearing. It’s a story of an older woman who beset, as many elderly are with issues of failure, forgets to live large and enjoy life. That is until the man in the red fedora shows up in her bedroom and everything changes.

Reading

Aside from revising and drawing, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. In particular I’ve been trying to read books that will expand my knowledge and help me think. A moment on social media makes you aware that thinking is often left behind.

Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, is an excellent read and very encouraging, whether you agree with all Pinker’s premises or not. Alan Jacob’s, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds wasn’t as much help as I thought it might be, but I did learn that we tend to lump people into camps or tribes. Lumping similar things and experiences is natural and useful, probably even necessary, but we’re often wrong, and in the process we create an ‘us and them’ ethos.

I’m currently reading Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo da Vinci, and I’ve got Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, as well as Gregg Easterbrook’s It’s Better Than it Looks lined up.

In fiction, I’ve somehow missed Michael Connelly’s The Wrong Side of Goodbye, so I’m listening to the audio version of that while I draw.

Though I’m offering Amazon links, I want you to know your local bookstore deserves support and your library is a wonderful place. For instance I borrowed the audio book by Connelly from our local library through an app called Libby. Check it out.

What about you? What are you reading or writing?

Oh, and you’re wondering about the guy in black above? A bit of eye candy, nothing more.

Eeyore? Pollyanna?

Thoughtful 2016Worry, 2017, encaustic on canvas

It seems to me that young adults and old adult have something in common. Fearfulness. When we’re just emerging into adulthood, we have no idea how to negotiate all the pitfalls of taking care of ourselves, fending for ourselves, making a place for ourselves and being someone. It’s all flailing and floundering and fear that we’ll embarrass ourselves and nobody special will like us. Ever.

In the middle years we kind of sort it out–at least a little. And if we haven’t sorted it out there is no time to do so now, because now we’re in it to the armpits and there’s not time to let fear hold us back. That career needs building and the family needs care. It’s a doing time.

Then comes later adulthood when somehow your back to not knowing quite how to get on in the world. Things swirl around and past you at such speed that you’re left standing slump-shouldered, mouth hanging open wondering what now. You have no idea how you got to this ridiculous place where it scary to go for a walk in case there is ice on the sidewalk, and you’re worried that your grand kids might think you smell funny.

These things can lead to many Eeyore moments for young adults and old adults alike.

I’m not going to suggest going all Pollyana,  but when life get shitty I would suggest finding something that makes you laugh, and then build on the things you know you are good at. There’s something you’re good at, always something, and if you push the limits on that thing you grow, and that is one of the most satisfying things you’ll ever do. Immerse yourself in what you are good at, and when you’re feeling like you could just about handle something else, give it a try. Be optimistic. Optimism won’t kill you you know and if you lose, try again, or try something else and maybe put ice skates on when you go for a walk.

Writing in Times of Sorrow

Elenora

I’ll tell you a story. It’s not a long story, and it is mostly not my story. It’s story about my kid sister Elenora who left this plane of existence this week. Above is a sketch I made of her. She was an eighteen-year-old beauty at the time. Her life has been rough and kind as are all our lives.

Elenora loved to come to the big city on day long shopping recursions with her big sister. It was a long day for me, I’d drive for most of an hour to an outlying town, pick her up, drive back into the city, spend the day shopping and lunching and then drive her home again before making my own way home.

On one long driving day we talked sporadically while we listened to the radio.

“Oh cool! Michael Jackson! I love him, don’t you?”

Maybe it was Thriller or Billy Jean, I don’t remember. I made some noises about not liking him all that much.

“Why?” she said.

I stumbled, not really knowing why. “Well, he had all that plastic surgery to change his face,” I said in an off-hand manner. It was a very foolish thing to say and if I didn’t know it then, I did a few minutes later.

Elenora was very quiet for a moment, then she turned to me, her eyebrows drawn together like they sometimes were when she had something important to say and she wasn’t sure how it would be taken.

“Didn’t you ever want to change something about yourself?”

“Ah, erm…I suppose so.” I was still floundering and I already knew how wrong I was, because of course I wished I could change things. Maybe a stronger chin, a less strong nose, maybe some get rid of some quirk that harmed more than it helped.

She picked at the hem of her coat for a moment, and then she said, “If I could change anything about me, I’d change it so I didn’t have Down Syndrome.”

We were both quiet for a long time then. I wanted to say, “you’re fine just the way you are,” but this wasn’t that kind of moment. This was a moment where the big sister had a lot to learn, and just maybe she did.

It is extra hard to write or paint when there is sorrow in your life. To all those struggling, hang in there. Know that you make a difference, and one day soon, you’ll create again. And Michael Jackson? I was wrong. Plain wrong about the music and the man who was trying to live in this world.

Calming the Storm

Sax Player

I am slowly going crazy, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Switch.

 

When I was in art school we were taught almost nothing about the business of/around producing art. This was university. This was art. Business didn’t come into it. You created and if you were any good someone would notice.

Wrong.

But that’s a topic for another week.

When I began to write I went to a class, then I joined a writers group and checked out all the blogs on writing I could find. Correction. You cannot possibly go through all the writing blogs on the internet in one lifetime. Writers write and they love to write about writing. And writers write about the business of writing. In fact, they are very vocal about this topic, and the number one go-to seems to be social media. You must build a platform on social media.

Dutifully, I joined all the social media sites. Facebook, Twitter, LinkdIn, Pinterest and later, Instagram.

At first, I liked Facebook. My children and their families, who I adore, live far away from me and this was a way to keep in touch with them. It was wonderful to see how the grandchildren were growing and the things they were doing.

Something unfortunate began to happen.

Let me say that I tend toward the naive, and I’m sure others would have caught what was happening much sooner than I did. I noticed it first during the last American election. The screaming and calling out, the unfriending. The writer community really got caught up in it. And I did too.

Then bit by bit I realized that everything had become a POLARIZING issue. I also realized that often in the slavering rants the facts had gone missing.

I find this beyond stressful and have had to step away.

So, what do you do when the world becomes too much? Too miserable? Too Awful?

Writer Chuck Wendig writes about it on his blog Terribleminds. He has his way and I have mine. I research. I make as sure as I can to have the facts. I do my best to be thoughtful and moderate, I listen to alternate points of view and I look for reason, and most of all I step away from the screen. I draw, I paint, I write, I read, and I listen to music. (right now, Endless Boogie, Vibe Killer. I know, stupid lyrics but I like the rhythm.)

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of interviews and reviews of Steven Pinker’s new book Enlightenment Now. It might not be your thing, but something positive is nice for a change.

Tracking Your Creative Production

Dissatisfaction

Shortly before the end of 2017 I was feeling dissatisfied with my creative output. We, as creatives often make these fuzzy goals in our heads, and then when somehow those fuzzy goals don’t magically become reality we get down on ourselves.

Plan

I decided to do two things.

  • Get a calendar and set more concrete goals.
  • Give myself a red star every time I met a writing goal, and a blue star every time I met a visual art goal.

Now, you can do all this on a Google Calendar–well, if you don’t care about the sparkly stars. I decided I needed both. I use the Google Calendar to set goals. When I’ve done a particular item I cross it off. But even better is my old-timey paper monthly calendar. I don’t set any goals there or write in any appointments. Instead, I write down what I did, and if it’s writing I get a red star and when it’s painting I get a blue star.

Results

Shiny! Shiny! I’m astonished at how many shiny stars appeared on my calendar. Maybe I did more work because I was keeping track of it or maybe I’ve been working hard all along and didn’t give myself credit.

Even last week when I was laid low by that nasty flu, I managed the three digital pieces above and the analog drawing of a “rocker”, as well as revision of four chapters in my comedic boomer novella, entitled Hannah’s Hearing.

What about you? Do you give yourself the credit you deserve? Go ahead. Give yourself a gold star!

 

Third Time the Charm

Marie-Lyon

Painting by Marie Lyons, Welcome Summer, acrylic, 13.5″ x 13.5″

On January 31, 2018 I retired for the third time.

When you’re an artist you often can’t wait to lose the day job and do what you really want to do, but I can tell you there are perils to having all that free ‘alone’ time. It’s much harder to keep yourself going and organized than you might think, and it’s especially difficult if you are energized by social interactions.

Work is not the problem here.

Most creatives can’t help but work, but the isolation, and the fear that you’ve missed the boat–that the world has moved on in your creative field and left you behind–is a pretty miserable thing to contemplate.

I think young artists experience this too and I know only one answer to that kind of misery.

Keep on keeping on.

It might sound like the definition of madness, but you’re not going to let that bother you, are you?

The painting above is by Marie Lyon who began her art study when she was 53. She’s now, 88 and continues to work. Read all about her at Debra Eve’s Later Bloomers. She sounds like a fun lady.

Believe in Your Art

 

A few days ago I posted a drawing on Instagram, and a lovely artist, Laureen Marchand made kind remarks on my drawing ability. Laureen is a fine artist. Make sure you check out the beautiful art on her website.

A Caution to Mentors and Mentees

There was a time, during my studies, when my fellow students thought perhaps I relied to heavily on my drawing virtuosity. A stunning concept for me because I knew nothing of such virtuosity. The criticism was kindly meant, but I have to admit it left me floundering for some time. I didn’t, however, let it end my love of drawing, and my intuitive belief that some of the work I was creating was quite good.

A little warning to Mentors, take care with your words. Speak kindly and make sure your mentee understands. And you who have the good luck to have a mentor, remember no one knows everything, and you must not blindly believe everything you’re told.

Love drawing? Go for it. Love figurative work? Do it. Love the swirl of colour? Create it. You have a gift. Use it.

What? We Don’t Have Free Speech?

20161028_070048

 

 

The Speaker, mixed media

 

 

The above image is of a construction I made a long time ago. It still hangs in my studio.

 

 

 

 

A studio mate gave me a wonderful piece of wood that he said came from an airplane body. It was thin and delicately curved and it had a beautiful grey patina. On one end were two holes, and it looked as though some metal had at one time held this piece to another.

Rule of thumb if you are a maker. Never throw interesting things out.

At the time I was constructing my paintings–I use the term paintings loosely–by pasting small bits of paper onto a canvas until the whole thing was covered in bits of paper. I’d pour on thin layers of paint, then stick on more bits of paper until I found something that resonated for me. There were many reasons for working in this way, not the least of which was poverty–and a concern for the environment. And I was all about the idea of finding that thin line between order and chaos, and how this line shifts as our perceptions change.

So this piece of wood moved from one studio to the next, and one day I place an old tree root against it…hmm, a face. I set it aside again and went on with other things. But the root stayed where it was, and a couple of pieces of fabric woven to look like tapestry became the colour in the eyes, and a speaker was  a mouth. The Speaker was born. Kitsch? Probably. Most likely, but it I like it.

Free Speech

Lately, I’ve become aware that there is a great deal of worry in some quarters, especially on university campuses that free speech is threatened. Whaaat? At Universities? In Canada and the USA? Isn’t that where you learn to speak, to debate, to be wrong and to be right.

I did a bit of research, and a lot of thinking.

A long time ago, when we lived in smaller cities, towns and villages, you could count on it, that some people with a little clout and a lot to say would ostracize someone who activated their sense of disgust. I’m old enough to have lived in such a small town. I’ve been on both ends of that disgust. Maybe you have too.

Now here’s the thing. We have the interwebz and a global village, and man we can do a lot of damage if we want to. So, what I’m thinking is maybe shut up sometimes and listen. Listen and remember that you’re talking to another person, not a disgusting IT. You might even have an interesting debate. They maybe right and you might be wrong, or perhaps you were right and they were wrong, but you learned something, and that other one? That other one is now a human being and not a disgusting something on the bottom of your shoe.

Goals, have you got ’em?

2017-11-19 11.50.26Okay, we’re moving on into the second week of January. Many of you have set and begun to work toward goals. Lots of goals. You are going to be so much better in 2018. Your friends won’t even recognize you the new you.

It feels as though anything is possible in the New Year. All your old blots have been expunged. You can dump that frayed old you and become…anything, everything.

Some of you are really good at setting goals and working toward them. You write them down in your journals, and you plan for them in you schedules, and when 2018 ends, you’ll have accomplished at least some of what you planned to accomplish. Yay you!

Now, I’m a seriously conscientious person. Not in the orderliness aspect of that trait, but in an industrious way. I’m the person who can’t just sit there. Part of the reason I don’t like parties is that mostly it’s just sitting there making inane conversation. Come on, if we’re going to talk lets talk about really important things.

Yes, I know, I need to learn to chill. Perhaps that should be one of my goals this year. Wait, I’ll write that down.

I have a confession to make. I find it really hard to set goals–the precise written down kind of goals. Oh yes, I have a vague plan in my head. I’m going to begin a new novel, and I’ll finish the revision on the current one. I’ll submit the novel in revision to…and I’ll make digital art at least once a week I’ll work on analog art three times–no four time, maybe…

See, not very specific. So what’s the problem? Why am I so reluctant to make specific goals?

It might have something to do with fear of failure. Or, maybe it has something to do with my tendency to remain open to new things for as long as possible. If I tell you I’m going to do something, I can’t change my mind and do something else instead. My conscientiousness won’t let me. To compensate I make vague goals. It gives me direction, but doesn’t lock me in.

What about you? Do you find it easy to set specific goals? Reasonable goals that you can achieve? What makes it work for you? If you have as much trouble with this as I do, why? I’d love to hear from you.

I’ve been working hard on revising a young adult fantasy novel, called The Spell, and haven’t had much time in the studio. The above is a small sketchbook collage I made in November of 2017

 

 

 

It’s a New Year!

Cezannes Jar
Cezanne’s Jar, Collage on Canvas, Eve Barbeau

Every year, at this time I get a little manic. It’s both a delicious and slightly uncomfortable feeling made up of anticipation and fear, of potential and possible failure.

Okay, so failure goes without saying. You’re going to fail this year. I’m going to fail, but man! Look at all that potential.

We can try anything. And, I’m biased I know, but how about trying something new in the “Maker” arena today?

  • Do you like to cook? Learn to make something delicious.
  • How about electronics? Go ahead, order that Raspberry Pi kit with Arduino, and make something.
  • Sew a new dress.
  • Write a short story.
  • Paint a picture. Sure, go digital, that’s fine.
  • Throw a pot!

Hey, not like that. You know I meant for you to create a pot on a wheel or hand build one if you prefer.

There is nothing like the satisfaction of having made something.

Sometimes you fail, yes, that’s life, but you always learn, and that is the most exciting part of it all. You learn.

I already know I’m going to take David Schmid’s course on mystery writing (The Great Courses) and a whole lot of classes in psychology.

What about you? What are you planning to learn and make this year?

The artwork above is one I made some years ago. I used a process of sticking down many little bits of paper (on canvas) until I began to realize an image of sorts. This one came out looking a bit like a Cezanne painting.