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.

What? We Don’t Have Free Speech?

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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.