Thursday, May 28, 2020

WORD PAINTINGS #92 - INTO THE GREAT UNKNOWN


Llano Quemado, New Mexico -   Unable to think of much else since making the decision to go ahead and share my experience, strength and hope.  Have tried to talk myself out of this, but the urge to persist is with me every day now.  Perhaps there might be just one other woman out there struggling during this pandemic, I want her to know that she is not alone!  There are sisters all over the world who share her experience.  There is no greater understanding than that of women in recovery - a strong life-long bond.....light at the end of that long and very dark tunnel....each day is a New Beginning. 


Thirty-five years ago there were treatment centers, group AA meetings, one on one sponsor support.  Help was available 24/7.  Those support systems have changed, broken down.  Am certain that chat rooms, Zoom meetings, texting and messages to sponsors, phone calls are replacements for the old ways in order to maintain social distancing.  Could these few chapters of Word Paintings be helpful?  This is my way to pay it forward and thank all those generous spirits who shared their stories with me so long ago.   

Santa Fe, 1978 - There was that first day when I knew alcohol had me and, even though I tried mightily to give it up every hour of every day, I kept going back for more.  My second husband was leaving for work.  I stopped him at the front door.  "I have a problem.  I can't stop drinking. Please help me."  He looked at his watch and said he didn't want to be late.  Prior to this revelation I had begged him to go into counseling with me but he refused.  That night he came home with a special gift - a vintage bottle of Chivas Regal.  A stark realization that this battle was mine alone.  It took six years of being "out there" before I surrendered and asked (begged) for the help I needed.

In the beginning of our marriage life was great - we were a happy family!  Ernie had some serious surgery sometimes in the late seventies and developed episodes of extreme paranoia.  At the end there were loaded rifles in every room in the house and a revolver under Ernie's pillow.  Tensions ran high; sensing danger, I knew it was the end. A long, long and very sad tale. Life took over and I needed to take my children to a safer place. We moved to a rented house nearer to their schools.  As much as we tried to make the best of this time - it was dark and scary for all of us.  A divorce did nothing to relieve the anger and bitterness of our situation.   As much as I tried I could not stop drinking....if anything our problems intensified the situation.

I have a metaphor for marriage - it is a large honeymoon suitcase.  Before embarking on Life's journey together, the groom packs all his experiences and emotional baggage and the bride does the same.  Without realizing it, all their damaged parts become one big weedy tangle of unresolved issues.  Both Ernie and I were emotionally damaged people.  If we could have had an opportunity to sit down face to face with a counselor prior to our marriage to share the unvarnished truth of our childhood lives  (Truth and Reconciliation) we would have avoided marriage and just stayed the best of friends.  Hope springs eternal, doesn't it?  Ah, romance....divorce.

Thus began my search for sanity.  Once I admitted to having a problem, I tried everything to make life better for us.  Denial was so strong - I thought Life was the problem. If only I could make things right. Counselors, astrologers, tarot readers and eventually Ernest Holmes' Church of Religious Science were little steps.  Six years of turmoil and confusion....always searching for the missing parts of me.  It honestly never occurred to me that drinking was my problem - even during my childhood alcohol was essential to any and all happy times.   Drinking no longer me happy - I was miserable - sick and tired!  Denial is not a river in Egypt!!!

Sadly I couldn't keep anything together.  Promises to  do better, be better and stop my destructive behavior never seemed to produce a happy ending.  Absolutely everything fell apart, including my little family.  Many mishaps and adventures during those "lost" years.  Truth is they were never lost - they were being lived to the fullest while drinking.  Many paintings, some shows, a few workshops - oh, not to be forgotten is my brief marriage to a genial fellow I met at church! He turned out to be a Dateline Mystery Man with a huge secret suitcase full of darkness  We were drinking buddies.

Truchas, New Mexico - 1983 -There are no accidents! We moved to the horse ranch in Truchas. The marriage was irrelevant, the universe conspired to bring me to this place of healing - I never would have found it alone. This scary relationship was my first encounter with "rigorous honesty".  One morning I looked at this stranger and said, "Oh my God, you are my father!"  It was time for me to do "the work"!  From then on I decided to do whatever it would take to live life without alcohol.  I've read that once one makes a decision, the Universe supports and empowers that action. It has always been my belief that sobriety is my spiritual journey.  Life in that mountain place was my true New Beginning.  Living in nature began my healing process....a very long and winding road.  Hard work, serious doubts - one boulder at a time...

Monday, May 25, 2020

WORD PAINTINGS #91 - CLOUDS FROM BOTH SIDES NOW



26 May 2020 - Llano Quemado, N.M. - Sat in the sun on the old railroad bench in front of the house this morning.  A wide band of low clouds forming in the northeast over Taos Mountain and the Pecos foothills.  A matching bank of clouds slowly building over the low mountains to the southeast, beginning to form a circle - only a few hundred sky miles from meeting in the middle.  Some dark and rumbly-looking patches among the whiter billows.   As I look out the window now, they are still growing and building. Fingers crossed that we will have a big, juicy rainstorm this afternoon.  Weeks of drought - fire danger warnings for campers and hikers in the surrounding forests.

Life in the time of a Pandemic.....tomorrow is my day for a homemade haircut.  Read about the two symptomatic hairdressers somewhere infecting over 140 clients!  Wonky left hand due to arthritis will make this another "self care" adventure.  Bought most of my supplies for bread making.  Machine won't be delivered until August - a silicone bag for the ingredients and kneading the dough.  The exercise might do my old hands some good.  Remembering the days when I baked four loaves at a time - a great recipe for challah dough.  Challenging myself with old habits which need to become new again - did I just get lazy? Looking for some good soup recipes....

Wednesday marks my 35th year of sobriety. Struggling with the idea of sharing my story.  Truth is the memories are fast and furious as The Day approaches. Had my answer yesterday when I thought of what it would be like for anyone trying to overcome addiction during a pandemic.  Recovery programs are groups of people (at any stage of addiction) meeting in rooms large and small - newcomers and old timers sharing their stories.  Hospitals are not available for detox.  The foundation of the AA program is the sharing of one's experience, strength and hope.  It is possible that people will find ways to recovery with viral meetings and Zoom.  Once a person gets sick and tired of being sick and tired, a strong will to live - the life force kicks in - and there is an  willingness to go to any lengths to get healthy. 

My story is not unusual just made more complicated due to my stubbornness and denial....the good, bad and the not so pretty.  One day there was a 6'oclock news segment with Betty Ford and her family discussing their intervention.  Her husband and children told how they felt to watch her and all the ways her drinking affected their lives. With their help and support she  entered a treatment program for her addiction to alcohol and prescription pills.  Her body language showed no signs bravado,  just a quiet bravery; an admission of powerlessness and great strength of spirit.  She touched my soul!   

Some years later Betty, her daughter Susan, and a slew of Secret Service men would visit my studio on Santistevan Lane in Taos and I had the honor of fixing lunch for her. Over many years Betty's openness about her alcoholism and breast cancer saved thousands of women's lives.  Before this time women would go down the long lonely road of alcoholism without any roadmap to a better life.  The words "breast cancer" were only whispered and the diagnosis kept a dark family secret.  Betty opened doors to healing through alcohol treatment programs and mammograms.  She is one of the greatest women of our time!   This is the story of how her bravery and courage saved my life....I can never repay her. It is my hope that I can tell my story with the same courage and honesty.  It is definitely a long and winding road.....

GRANT ME THE SERENITY TO ACCEPT THE THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE - AND THE COURAGE TO CHANGE THE THINGS I CAN.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

WORD PAINTINGS #90 - REBIRTH




24 MAY 2020 - Llano Quemado, New Mexico - An old habit of mine is to give permission to start life over anytime I experience major shifts or changes.  Turning 80 last year and after some major health issues, every day has been a New Beginning.  The minute my eyes open, I experience a delightful surprise.  Another day!!!  There was, however, a certain hesitancy to make plans for the "future".  My approach has become somewhat fatalistic.  When will "it" happen?  How close am I to that Big Easel in the Sky?  If I start this 36"x48" canvas....a thousand reasons to avoid living!

And then came the Pandemic!!!  All of a sudden, left to my own devices it became necessary for me to stand on my own two somewhat wobbly feet one more time.  As each day has passed, I realize that I've had enough energy and strength to reach a level of independence not experienced in a very long time.  Surprise, surprise! Bitching and moaning to myself before each "insurmountable" pile of chaos, lists I never could quite complete in a minute or less, I have chipped away a little bit every day!  "How do you eat an elephant?" - One Bite at a Time!  Instead of trying to do everything at once, I took small bites out of the biggest jobs like the taxes, filing piles of papers, etc. Afternoon naps have helped a lot! 

Last night I had this beautiful dream that I was nine months pregnant with a baby girl - just waiting for that first labor pain.  Hadn't felt movement in a while and worried that something had gone wrong.  All of a sudden I felt a strong bump to my rib cage - then my eyes opened to another beautiful New Mexico morning!

A great cup of coffee this morning and some amateur dream translation, I believe this is a message from my overworked Art Gods!  Whenever life becomes cluttered and confused, I struggle to find the door to a solution.  The more I struggle, the answers will elude me.  Taking life one step at a time - just putting my head down and doing the work the answers appear in the most amazing ways....my dream was about fertility.  Stop hesitating.  Adjust, adapt - CHANGE my thinking!  One painting at a time....

This social isolation has been a surprise - a gift of time to be clear about my choices.  Deciding not to grow a garden felt like a defeat - a concession to old age.  Last night the KOBTV weatherman said that northern New Mexico is under a severe drought now - high winds, fear of forest fires.  Enough energy to paint without doing battle with Mother Nature.  Good decision.  Buy a bread making machine, a new Epson large digital printer; put my head down and just do it! 

In between my Martha Stewart moments of cleaning and organizing, I have gathered source material - images - photos from recent field trips.  The fire has been lit one more time.  This is my New Beginning - this is the message in my  dream was to let go - Stop Hesitating!!! All I have is today!  Fresh mix of painting medium, a new palette and a list of art supplies to hold me until Christmas. 

May 27th marks my 35th year of sobriety.  Have been struggling with the decision to tell my story of recovery "How the Real Betty Ford Saved my Life" -- hesitating!  What if my story would resonate with another woman out there?  I need another dream...

Being alive is a total surprise, isn't it?

Thursday, May 21, 2020

WORD PAINTINGS #89 - FROM DARK TO LIGHT!

21 May 2020 - Llano Quemado, New Mexico - One day it dawned on me that the way I painted (dark to light) was a metaphor for all of Life!  My darkest times have usually been followed by a blissful period of "enlightenment"...a time when I breathed a sigh of relief to have run the gauntlet and come out the other side not completely unscathed, but a lot wiser and eventually grateful for the lessons learned.

Over forty years ago a well-known landscape painter, Robert Clark, enrolled in one of my Craft of Painting Workshops.  I should have paid him for all his generosity... sharing his vast experience and knowledge of PAINT!  One precious gift was the 400 year old recipe for an Overnight Glaze Painting Medium used by the Italian Renaissance artists.  (Six ounces of Winsor-Newton English Distilled Turpentine, one ounce of Stand Oil, one once of Damar Varnish and one-quarter teaspoon of Cobalt Drier).

Up until the time I met Robert and his magic recipe, I painted Alla Prima - all in one sitting.  Gradually my methods morphed from the fast and the furious to a much slower and more thoughtful way of achieving light - a way to illuminate my subject matter so that the colors pop off the canvas.

First I use a "toned ground" - Payne's Grey and titanium white mixed to a medium value.  this brings the color down a bit so it doesn't look too "cartoony".  Also it eliminates those annoying white spaces around the subject matter.  I let the canvas "cure" for at least a week or longer - just let it sit to dry.

Next I either sketch the image loosely in Prussian Blue Oil paint, or go full color with MG Underpainting White, Turpentine, and oil color.  This part of my painting is the foundation - like building a house - strong composition - connection to my subject matter and the ability to "see" through the layers to the end result before I put the colors down. Since there is turpentine in the painting medium, I let the underpainting dry - no longer cool to the touch.


My palette of oil colors runs left to right - dark to light.  All colors can be thinned with the medium, but there is a Universe of possibilities in the dark colors.  WHITE DOES NOT MAKE "LIGHT"!!!!! It is the laying in of the darker and middle tones (mixtures of opaque colors and glazes) that create the foundation for the final juicy application of the highlights - the colors applied over the glazes.  Voila!  Life is good one more time!

There you have all my secrets to a happy life.  My way of painting isn't for everyone - it has just developed over time - no one taught me how to do it - it just evolved.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it!!!  Use the darkness for good -- every experience, every painting is a lesson learned. 

Going to the easel now.... trust that there is much light in all this darkness. One day at a time, one step at a time....

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

WORD PAINTINGS #88 - SPRING CLEANING

20 May 2020 - Llano Quemado, New Mexico - Turned off the heat, opened the windows, changed the bed - did the laundry.  Washed my summer painting clothes - linen pants, blue jeans.  Doing simple tasks for the past two weeks, trying to gain some equilibrium in what is being called our "new normal". Adjustments - adapting...patience.  Quietly listening, observing. 

Finished my Book of Last Wishes - a seven year coming to Jesus admission that I will not live forever.  A big relief - feeling lighter - it is done.  Now I can move onto this next phase of my life without leaving a mess behind when I go to that Big Easel in the Sky.  At peace.

The news is still dark and disturbing.  Much parsing of our Very Stable Genius' every word.  I sometimes stare in awe at the twisting and turning of the hosts of news programs and pundits trying so hard to make sense of insanity. Wonder how many people believe this craziness is normal.  Remembering an old Alan Bates movie The King of Hearts - at the end he knocked on the door of the insane asylum and begged to be taken in -obviously the people in that building were saner than the world he was leaving behind!  I got that feeling when I watched the gun-toting yahoos in the Michigan State House.  Could all this chaos and anger over a pandemic eventually morph into a civil war?  Sadly this time is rich in opportunity for those who want their own version of America the Beautiful!

Still clearing up little piles of Life around the house - odds and ends left over from the move last year.  So strange to be doing this alone.  Have had helpers for over five years ever since John died.  Long time friends and special people are Doug and Hope; it is unusual now to just meet them at the door avoiding our easy routine of chores and sharing lunches and good conversation.  Told them we will go back to our old routine the middle of June - wearing masks and keeping our physical distance.  In the meantime it has been very good for me to mop floors and do laundry - put my house in order.  I am so much stronger - my learned helplessness has been replaced by a new and healthy sense of independence - I love it!

What I know for sure is that life will never go back to "normal" after this.  Feeling that every person, every family will need to find their own path through this unfamiliar forest - no trail of breadcrumbs! Our old ways have come to an end.  Strangely this is a very hopeful time....this New Beginning hasn't taken shape.  Everything is happening so fast that we are still in a state of shock.  Mandatory hibernation gives us all the opportunity to assess our values - a time for physical and moral housecleaning.  What to keep - what to leave behind....

Personally I plan to leave behind the image of myself at the age of 40.  My mind still makes plans every morning for that younger version of myself.  Wishful thinking.  Those days of being Superwoman - I could go to the grocery store in the morning, clean the whole house, bake four loaves of bread before the children came home from school.  I worked at the law office and painted at night after the kids were in bed.  Art shows, galleries - How the hell did I do it?  I was a Human Doing!

Don't laugh - when all this started, panic took over.  All the talk of food shortages, scarcity.  I decided to make a victory garden.  Bought many envelopes and bags of seeds - grow bags.  Just as I was on the verge of making an order for soil and compost at Ace Hardware, I watched a video made by a local man who has a one acre "farm" which took him seven years to build!  Faced with the choice of filling up the blank canvases stacked up all over my studio space, or becoming Mrs. Greenjeans, I gave the grow bags and seed potatoes to my friend Hope and sent the seeds to my friends in Albuquerque.  They are thrilled and I am free to mix up some new painting medium today and get on with my real work, the paintings.  "FOCUS" is my word of the day. It is entirely possible that I still have some surprises to offer!

Stay healthy, my friends - imagine this Brave New World....oh, the Wonder of it All!!!!
 

Friday, May 15, 2020

WORD PAINTINGS #87 - INTO THE LIGHT


LLano Quemado, New Mexico - 25 April 2020 -  The coyote family down by the river sang me to sleep last night!   Smiled on my way to Dreamland. Unable to write for a while - have truly been "out of words".

Began my quarantine March 1st, so today I've had time to think about all the adjustments required to "social distance".  It has been exactly one year since my midnight emergency plane ride for surgery in Colorado Springs.  So much happened after that surprise that I really didn't have time or the energy to process all the changes  - and now a pandemic!  "What are the lessons I need to learn?  

The tragedy in all of this is watching our government scramble, totally unprepared.  Wind-whipped by the speed of all the death and destruction, it is obvious they have a long way to arrive at serious solutions.  Yesterday's suggestion to use Clorox to combat the ravages of this virus has everyone questioning these rambling press conferences/political rallies.  Even the voices of sanity like Dr. Fauci have to watch their words in order to stroke the ego of the Very Stable Genius.  As a result there is no PLAN in place - and the states are left on their own to cobble together their supplies for testing - hoping their shipments are not stolen out from under them by FEMA!!!  We are at the mercy of a bunch of grifters looking to make a profit from these dark days.  

Watching the nurses and doctors struggle to treat the sick and dying without ventilators, protective gear - the massive scale of patients needing care - and the danger to their own health and safety is incomprehensible!!!    Early on governors of many states recognized the scale of ineptitude from the White House and sadly realized they needed to put their own plans in place in order to protect their citizens. 

Our own Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham called for early quarantine and closure of non-essential businesses.  In Taos the Ski Valley closed early, galleries closed and eventually hotels and motels shut down. State Troopers were also monitoring traffic into Taos.  As a result of quick action on the part of our government officials and citizens' compliance with the stay at home orders we have so far not been hit with the same level of devastation as some other states. 
 _______________________________________________________________
15 May 2020 - Llano Quemado, New Mexico....Gov. Cuomo said it best yesterday "The only one who can keep you safe is YOU!"   

Sitting on my little red sofa watching big, blowy clouds form this afternoon.  Biggest excitement this week - a huge rabbit ran across my neighbor's yard yesterday morning - I've named him Thumper!  Today is the first day that some businesses in Taos will begin to open.  Have decided to continue my social distancing at least until the middle of June - and only then will I partner with my photographer friend for one or two day trips for source material. No stores, no shopping - will order art supplies online.

Am amazed that many people think that life will get back to normal - my guess is that we will all have to wait forever.  First of all there wasn't much "normal" about my old life!  Social isolation is my oldest friend - my happy place.  Give me a palette full of oil paint, a new canvas and a bunch of brushes...Nirvana!  

Sense this virus will be with us in many forms for many years.  Nobel prize winner Peter Doherty predicts that there will be a vaccine by this September; being developed now in Australia.  Millions of doses are already being produced in anticipation of its efficacy.  However none will be available to anyone over 60!  Leaves me out!  The only one who can keep me safe is ME!

Have been stunned into silence these past eight weeks.  Realize that I need to gladly give up the old way of doing things.  A cleansing - heart, mind and spirit - and all the messy closets and drawers!  Time to finish my Book of Last Wishes - a compilation of information....bank records, passwords, names and numbers of anyone who helps to keep me running.  Links to my website and eBay store.  Especially my "Right to Die" instructions.  There is nothing depressing about doing this - it is an act of love for my daughters, Mary and Sarah, who will be left with sorting out all the essentials of my long and exciting life!  A big sigh of relief to finish up this weekend. 

As long as there is breath in my body, I will keep moving..albeit much more slowly than in days of yore!  Two weeks of cleaning and sorting - no painting.  Today mixing up a new batch of my painting medium - a 400 year old recipe given to me by California painter Robert Clark.  Clear off my worktable.  Fifteen blank canvases staring at me hungry for some paint - color, color and more color!

Am affected deeply by this time alone.  Miss my happy helpers Hope and Doug.  They come only as far as the door now - no hugs!  I miss my HUGS!  

Sending out some big virtual hugs to you this afternoon.....more to come.  Believe there are some lovely surprises hidden behind all these dark clouds - keep the FAITH!!!

 

Thursday, April 2, 2020

WORD PAINTINGS #86 - RADICAL FAITH

Llano Quemado, New Mexico - 2 April 2020 

Sometimes a ray of hope is a simple shadow made by a ventilation pipe and a canale on a certain day every year - and that is the day you just happen to plan a field trip shortly after the loss of a child. And there it is - an omen, a sign on the ancient adobe wall of a mission church.  Childhood faith kicks in while staring at the shadow....a small spark of life returns.  Yes, I have absolute faith that if the sun shines on that old adobe wall each year around the 26th of October, that cross will be there for all to see.  How simple is that?

Radical faith is far more complicated - impossible to grasp - small quick-silver glimpses of what we once knew as "normal".  Nothing we can hold in our minds for long in these unsettling days and months to come.  No picture of what the future will hold - everyday life as we knew it is forever changed.  How is it possible to comprehend such uncertainty?   Is it possible to navigate the vast Unknown - this new Game of Life without the instructions?

"We may be living through times of unprecedented change, but in uncertainty lies the power to influence the future. Now is not the time to despair, but to act.

It is important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and destruction. The hope I am interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It is also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse one. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings. “Critical thinking without hope is cynicism, but hope without critical thinking is naivety,” the Bulgarian writer Maria Popova recently remarked.

Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognise uncertainty, you recognise that you may be able to influence the outcomes – you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists adopt the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It is the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterwards either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.

Together we are very powerful, and we have a seldom-told, seldom-remembered history of victories and transformations that can give us confidence that, yes, we can change the world because we have many times before. You row forward looking back, and telling this history is part of helping people navigate toward the future. We need a litany, a rosary, a sutra, a mantra, a war chant of our victories. The past is set in daylight, and it can become a torch we can carry into the night that is the future."  Rebecca Solnit - The Guardian

WORD PAINTINGS #92 - INTO THE GREAT UNKNOWN

Llano Quemado, New Mexico -   Unable to think of much else since making the decision to go ahead and share my experience, strength and...