Painting In Pandemic Times

“But nobody is visually naive any longer. We are cluttered with images, and only abstract art can bring us to the threshold of the divine.” 
― Dominique De Menil, The Rothko Chapel: Writings on Art and the Threshold of the Divine

Try something new, she said.

These are challenging times. Most of us remain under ‘lockdown’ due to COVID- 19. Finances can be tight. Businesses are shut. Children are home. Parents are navigating on- line learning. Sometimes, souls demand distraction.

Art saves us.

I’m not a trained artist, rather, I grew up with a creative mother. I watched and learned as she painted florals and scenes captured from photographs and memory. Through her eyes, I witnessed beauty reborn, suspended in space.

We didn’t own a large supply of materials: a paintbox, a few brushes, and paper or re cycled cardboard. Mom collected sticks, dried seaweed, and found stones to drag and press onto paper. We learned to collage, ripping pages from magazines and print material. Sometimes, we’d search for words and letters within print and used these foundlings to send a message to another.

Although Mom didn’t realize it at that time, she was developing our early literacy skills, teaching us to read, think, design. The manner in which she expressed beauty through colour and shape would follow and stay.

Try.

Technology is amazing. There are many talented on- line teachers, designers, and artists willing to share joy and craft. As a novice painter, I chose ‘abstract’ as a focus (how naive), prepared to cover and re-cover the canvas. I haven’t found the Devine. Yet.

Supplies challenge. I began with a limited palette of acrylics: Titanium White, Payne’s Grey, and Magenta, adding pop colours when they are available on- line, through a local business.

What began as curiosity within the confines of a Pandemic has become a tiny obsession. At the end of COVID- 19, I’ll have stacks of canvas to commemorate.

It will be fine.

Turn up the music. Play. Fail. It’s all beautiful.

The Roses
~in progress

Salvage

The decoy is a treasure. Its carved wooden shape, light as air. On the base is a hand painted scarlet letter. I recognize the script. For this reason, I pause. Some objects are worth the keep.

Father was a duck hunter, a truth we spent years debating ’round the Sunday table. I disagreed with his choice to hunt game. He defended the fact. Wild duck was one case.

“I’ve put food on the table.”

In silent protest, I’d refuse a forkful of roast duck.

“Excuse me from the table.”

As a child, he’d wake me at the just the right time. Before dawn, we’d ride to the slough, his Pointer a guard, on the back seat. The dog wears rubber boots, custom ordered from a hunting supply catalogue. Father protects the dog’s paws from damp ground.

At the slough, I am directed to a clearing on the bank. There is a view of the water. A thermos of cocoa warms my hands. Tucked within a paper bag: cheese sandwiches wrapped in wax paper.

“Be still,” he says. “Stay visible.”

When one is still in thought and body, one hears every whisper and notices every nuance. For instance, land and objects change in light. Bulrush reeds turn sage, to olive, to black.

To pass time, I weave tall grass into crowns, search for shapes and faces within clouds. I listen as wind rustles through the rush. When the ducks fly over the marsh, I plug my ears and rock.

At day’s end, father gathers the wooden decoys, tossing them into a gunny sack. In a separate one, he stacks the still warm bodies of duck.

I think ducks beautiful, their bodies smooth as velvet, feathers tiered and shimmering in light. Even dead, their faces remain calm.

As we drive home, a certain gravitas sets down between us. Music from the radio hangs in the balance. Country roads turn to city streets. In silence I find words for Sunday.

If Father were here today, I’d speak the same unwavering truth. Ann Patchett wrote it best, ” you have to be willing to accept not what you wanted to have happen, but what happens… By the time you get out of the marsh, you will have written a novel so devoid of ducks it will shock you.”

He’d nod toward the decoy on the sideboard. We’d agree to disagree. He’d hug me tighter, knowing we are more alike than different.

The decoy rests on the sideboard, freshened up, beneath two coats of ‘French Linen.’ ~ Annie Sloan

A beautiful quote from author Ann Patchett~

“…fiction writing is like duck hunting. You go to the right place at the right time with the right dog. You get into the water before dawn, wearing a little protective gear, then you stand behind some reeds and wait for the story to present itself…You choose the place and the day. You pick the gun and the dog. You have the desire to blow the duck apart for reasons that are entirely your own. But you have to be willing to accept not what you wanted to have happen, but what happens… By the time you get out of the marsh, you will have written a novel so devoid of ducks it will shock you.”

― Ann Patchett

Ask the sea. It whispers candle lit stories. One is told of a Sparrow in hopeless love with a Captain. Listen. In the still of night, waves tumble and crash upon a rocky shore. As tides ebb, notes beautiful and even rise.

These notes are heaven- sent, ripped from the deepest depths of being. A tear slipping from the corner of an eye, heart breaking silence. It’s the Sparrow, singing a canto to the sea.

Close your eyes, Child. Nestle. I’ll whisper a story about a man and his undying love for a woman. To this day, her salty tears rain down upon stormy water. Winds carry her to shore. She waits at the spot from which she left. For truth be told: “the sea separates land. It can not separate souls.”

Our Captain found divinity at sea. One part water, one part earth and bone, he lived and breathed salt air. In deepness he swam like a fish in a world filled with darkness and light, turrets and ledges. The sea had taught him patience. In deepness, he waited for the rarest treasure to roll along the ocean floor: a moon shell, both exquisite in function and form. This gift he picked for her.

At sunset, the Captain turned his ship and followed the notes that charted home. Faith was tied to her existence. He had anchored his life to her soul. Beneath a blanket of stars they sat. There was one moon in the sky. He placed one in her hands.

Amused, she’d traced the swirls upon the shell, a circular path that led inward. Silent and windswept, she’d pointed to the curious centre and smiled.

They had made a world between them amidst driftwood and ruin. He knew he’d love her forever, one day replacing moon shells for pearls. The universe did not agree. The ebbing tides of winter cut them apart.

For too many summers, he had watched her feel the sky. On her back grew the wings of a sparrow.

TBC

~ Rock a Bye

A Scene: Cilla 1935

Draft Three

Sugar Bunnies

Flour is in short supply. The recipe calls for butter. There’s margarine in the fridge. When baking it can be tricky to substitute ingredients. What binds, slips. What’s rich, is poor. There’s chemistry involved. If one isn’t careful, one ends up with a disappointing end product. Yet, somewhere, someone has posted a ‘fix,’ a simple compromise. Creative minds are everywhere in Pandemic Times and we are not always prepared.

Baking is a metaphor for love. We bake to comfort. We bake because we shouldn’t go out and we need to connect. We bake because our people still believe in the Easter Bunny and there isn’t a chocolate rabbit to be found. We soldier on, substituting sugar cookies for hollow eggs. Tucked inside a tin, wrapped in parchment paper, are fifteen pieces of Love. The note reads, I made this for you. x

There is an urge to renew so we turn up the music and pour our hearts into the bowl. We measure and stir. We lean against the counter. We create something achingly delicious.

The scent of vanilla fills the kitchen, each note a reminder of home and past, a faraway place of nostalgia. A land where little arms wrapped ’round grown shoulders. Hollow memories of forgotten cries, a mother’s footsteps down the hall, echo. Moments like blossoms, falling to the floor. We smile, knowing flowers grow in shadows.

Baking is the mind’s distraction. Creaming margarine is easier than creaming butter. The spatula slips. Ella sings lullabies to the lost. Such simple, repetitive focus allows thoughts to step forward and pass with each circle ’round the bowl. Baking is precise. You begin with all of this forlorn stuff and end up with something completely different.

It’s the sugar cookie in the fail that began in the heart. You’ll end up with perfection.

Baking In Pandemic Times

Gratitude

Sit with thoughts. Thoughts of gratitude for family and friends. Recall acts of kindness, selfless actions, impromptu messages, coffee dates and hugs. Surrender to memories. They are gifts. Heal, create, learn. Travel through the pages of a book. Be grateful for writers, artists, and musicians. They speak to our silence.

Dare to smile.

As vision softens, notice how light bends through glass at precisely seven o’clock. Take a walk. Pray to the fullness of joy, the cluster of daffodils, shy as bonnets bow to earth. Look up. See a child’s paper heart on a windowsill. The world is filled with tiny miracles.

Turn to thoughts of health care and front-line workers: honourable warriors united amidst a global pandemic. We see you. Hearts of gratitude, forever, sincerely, thank you.

x

Reading a fabulous read: ‘The Dutch House‘- Ann Patchett. Our book club is ‘on hold’ and for once, I’ve caught up! O to write as brilliantly as Ann. Three generations of family, obsession, love, and forgiveness.

“I see the past as it actually was,” Maeve said. She was looking at the trees.

“But we overlay the present onto the past. We look back through the lens of what we know now, so we’re not seeing it as the people we were, we’re seeing it as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered.”

Maeve took a drag off her cigarette and smiled. I love this. Is this what they’re teaching you in school?”

“Introduction to Psychiatry.”

“Tell me you’re going to be a shrink. It would be so beneficial.”

Highly recommend.