This has been a good week for figuring stuff out. Whether that is because of the new brain exercises I have been doing or not, I think I will keep up with them. A happy brain makes a happy Grandma Judy.
Drawing pictures with my non-dominant hand has made my whole body work harder. My left hand is figuring out how to hold a pencil, my right hand makes a fist, thinking she should be doing something, and my brain works overtime, making sense of the whole situation. It just seems to wake everything up!
This week I have gone on more walks. The sudden sunshine after weeks of rain is part of the reason, of course. Blinding sunshine through winter trees is just good for the soul.
But there’s more! For the Art Journal, I have made art I really like. Mapping my day as a board game and planning my ‘dream houses’ (yes, there are more than one!) have kept me happily introspective.
I have also figured out how to re-write my blogs so they can be printed. I sigh big sighs as I hunt up photos from years ago and cuddle up close to the feelings that they conjure.
All of these are good things. Art, writing, figuring things out, and sunshine. I am enjoying them, but also very aware that I am using them as emotional armor against what seems like an approaching storm in our country. In the coming weeks, I am going to need all the joy I can get.
I have written almost 1,000 blogs since July 2017, using the WordPress.com site. I have written about Portland’s history and places to visit, as well as the joys and difficulties of everyday life here. I am now thinking of turning all this writing into small books, which could go out into the world.
I hope to compile blogs on one topic (starting with our historic Lone Fir Cemetery), print them out, and offer them for sale. Auntie Bridgett Spicer does this with her wonderful Art-O-Rama zines, collections of writings and art that she sells online and at the SideStreet Arts gallery.
The difficulty of moving my Word Press writings into any other format, in order to print them out, was my first challenge. I asked Bridgett and read Q and A pages, looking for a way to make it work. Then I found something by a knowledgable fellow who basically said, “Wordpress doesn’t want you to do this. It is made to not allow you to do this.” Hmmm. Well, then, I’ll do it another way.
So today I start doing it another way. I will hunker down and re-type my blogs about Lone Fir, using a split-screen to make sure I don’t drift too far from the originals. I will fetch my photos from Pictures and splice them in. I will tighten up language and get rid of repetition, while trying to keep the language fresh and fun.
I am excited about this new level of exposure for my writing, even though I have no idea where it may end up. As Gandalf said, “You never know what may happen, once you set foot outside your door.”
I have rarely had trouble sleeping. As a teacher for thirty years and a working mom for twenty of those, I was so tired by bedtime that I was asleep before the lamp was cool. My body and brain had been running so fast all day, it was bliss to just shut down and go away for a while.
But lately, there has been trouble in sleepy-nigh’ night paradise. There are lots of perfectly good reasons for this.
We are in the middle of an ‘atmospheric river’ that is currently dumping seven inches of rain on Portland. I am a good sport about rain, but going for a real decent walk just isn’t as much fun. So I’m not getting as much exercise as I probably should.
Age may have something to do with it. What seem like little aches during the day become (you’ll forgive the expression) real pains in the neck, and can make finding and keeping a comfortable position difficult.
And then there is the news. Last night my brain kept running scenarios, not of plans, not anything I could help or stop, but scenes from a hypothetical disaster movie called “How it Ended for (your city here).” People were smashing things. Roads were blocked. It was like being in the Capital, but there was no place to be evacuated to. It was just us, and them. I won’t bother attaching photos. I’m sure they are etched into your brain, as well.
So this morning I am hobbling by on two hours sleep, determined to do the day as best I can. To not get snippy with my people, to do art and French and exercise and pet the cat. To do the day and be ready for sleep when it is done.
My Art Journal assignment for Monday was to make a picture of the origin or meaning of my name. This became a bigger project of memory, photo hunting, and watercolor. Yehudit is the Hebrew origin of my name, Judy. It means both “praised” and simply “ a woman from Judea.” But Julia Harris, the woman I am named after, had more American beginnings. Born in about 1915, the youngest daughter of an Arkansas pig farmer, she was given the elegant name “Julia” in hopes she would be pretty and marry well.
But once Julia grew up, she had no interest in marrying. She took advantage of World War II to move far from Arkansas, change her name to Judy (Julia was just too fancy) and work for McDonnell-Douglas aeronautics in California as a riveter.
My Momma was working there, too, and they became great friends. Both being from large farm families, both out on their own for the first time, they would go bowling together when their shifts ended. Then Momma met Dad and got married, and quit work to stay home and make babies.
Fast forward a year or so. Momma, now home with my big brother Tim and pregnant with Jim, listened to my dad tell about the new ‘girl’ at work. He described her so clearly that Momma recognized her friend Judy. Judy had left work at the plant shortly before Mom and Dad got married, returning to Arkansas.
When she returned, she told of how she had married a boy back home and that he had been killed in the war. She had come back to work in California with her old friend Ruth, and they took an apartment together. Ruth was a real estate agent (a rarity for women until the war took all the men away) and Judy kept up her engineering training at McDonnell-Douglas.
Judy and Ruth remained close to my parents for the next eight years, and when my Mom finally had her girl (me) she named me Judy after her dear friend. I must have met Judy when I was a baby, but I don’t remember it. She and Ruth moved to Lancaster, California, and then Sedona, Arizona, and we just never got to visit. She and Momma wrote regularly, and I heard about her my whole life.
Fast forward to 1998. After my Dad died, I asked Momma where she would like to go, who she would like to visit. First, we spent some time with family in Oklahoma.
Then we went to Sedona. Judy had lost Ruth just the year before. They had been together since 1946. Their double wide mobile home was decorated in the height of style from the 1960s, with rattan furniture and ceramics with an Asian theme. Judy, at the age of 86, led us on hikes, visits to the Church of the Rock, and a full day of pancakes and antiquing in Sedona. When we were too tired to walk anymore, we talked ourselves blue in the face.
I liked this woman I was named after. She was direct, strong, positive, and funny. She had made her way in life with a partner, not a husband, and she had lived a good life.
Then Momma and I went back to California. Judy and I wrote back and forth, and called each other on holidays. A few years later we got word that Judy had passed away at the age of 97. She had a good, long life. Momma passed a few years later.
This is the best photo I have of Judy and Momma, taken that spring in Sedona. But the most important things about both of them didn’t show on the outside, anyway. Momma’s kindness and loving heart, and Judy’s strength, friendship, and willingness to live a good life in her own way, don’t show up in pictures. But they make fine people.
I have known for months that the art I have been doing during the lockdown is making me happier. I have a fun project to do everyday, connect with friends and family over ZOOM, and I get to learn new things.
Now, it turns out it maybe making me healthier and smarter, too. One of the challenges last week had us drawing something with our non-dominant hand. For me, that’s my left, which is usually pretty useless. It was hard!
Just figuring out how to hold the pencil, how much pressure to apply, then making the lines go where I wanted…. it wasn’t pretty, I tell you. Because my notebook has a large spiral binding, I needed to turn the whole thing upside down so it didn’t get in the way of my left hand.
But I kept at it and finished a drawing of our French press coffee maker that was not terrible. I did some reading about this sort of exercise. “Using your opposite hand will strengthen neural connections in your brain, and even grow new ones”, says Jeff Rose, who began using his left hand because of an injury. “It’s similar to how physical exercise improves your body’s functioning and grows muscles.”
Well, I thought, I could use some of that! Maybe in addition to my daily routine of doing a French lesson, eating lots of veggies and getting some exercise, I should draw with my left hand, like a set of Frontal Cortex crunches.
So I did. The drawings got better, and I got braver. I did some left-handed watercolors with the drawing, which made them prettier, if not actually better. Because my view is limited, I started copying photos of our cat and of poppies in our old back yard.
And last night, when you and I were drawing together on ZOOM, I realized that by using my left hand everyday, my right hand has gotten smarter! I was able to draw my stuffed dog Sammy much better than I could before. Maybe the fault isn’t in our hands, but in our brains. Maybe I have been forming new pathways in my old brain!
So, go do some non-dominant hand drawing. You will feel clumsy for a while, but it will pay off.
From 2016 until last spring, I worked just about every day on a story that I wanted to be published, printed, and used in the local schools. I had plans for this story. It was going places.
It was a fictionalized history of Portland in 1903, and to make the history correct and interesting, I researched everything from the conditions of children working in fish packing plants to the layout of elementary schools. I created some characters I really liked, and a few that were loathsome.
And then, last February, I just stopped. It was like a brain fever broke and I didn’t need to do that anymore. Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, there were a few factors involved.
My favorite character idolized President Teddy Roosevelt. The more I learned about Teddy’s racism and imperialist views, the less I wanted this character to admire him. Since that was central to his motivation, it sort of fell apart.
I realized that for a really dramatic story, terrible things have to happen to my characters. I don’t like to even think of terrible things happening to children, much less write about them.
I realized that it was the research, the hunting of details, that I loved the most. The writing of the story was secondary.
Also, since I have lived here in Portland, I have met a few people who have published their stories. The books are well-written, well- researched, and entertaining. But the folks say that their experience with the publishing industry was miserable, frustrating, and made them pretty much zero income. So why go there?
Ego? That would be just sad. Wealth? I’m comfortable, thanks. Fame and fortune? Nope.
But I still have this research, these interesting bits of history and trivia of life back then. How to share them without publishers? Well, maybe you’re looking at it.
Online publishing is a popular venue, costs next to nothing, and demands fewer compromises. And it seems to be just about as profitable as print publishing (that is, not at all.) So maybe I will go back to my notebooks, find the best bits from my research, and put them in this blog.
Being so far away from you is hard. So is being just across town from the cousins here, but not being able to have a real visit, to hug or sit in the couch and snuggle.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways to stay in touch. We have been having ZOOM visits and doing art together, practicing drawing toys and trying to make 3-D objects look right. Cousin Kestrel even joined us for one of these art hang-outs, and it was fun to have you both in one “place”.
And today, a gift that I look forward to every year has arrived. It is the Shutterfly calendar, featuring YOU.
When you were a tiny baby, your Mama realized that she loved posing you for pictures, that your Daddy was really good at taking them, and that I loved getting them. You even got to like the posing, too! A family tradition was born.
The oldest ones, when you were tiny baby Liza, have been put high up in the garage for safe keeping, and I can’t get photos from them.
But the last few, from 2016 on, are on my shelf and I can visit with you whenever I want.
We will get to have a real visit soon, but until then, it is nice to be able to see you!
Last October, my friend Ruth got me (and a bunch of other friends) started on an art journal. She posted ideas for each day…. draw a ghost, or a tree. It was fun and kept me thinking about new ways to draw familiar images.
November brought a different sort of challenge. The ideas weren’t for WHAT to make, but what to make them FROM. Threads, junk mail, bubble wrap, all became part of the repertoire. That was another sort of mental stretch, and was more challenging. I started looking at everything with the thought, “Could I use this?”
In December, I’m sure there were suggestions, but between bracing for the holiday and being on my own ‘circle’ binge, I didn’t pay any attention. While I like what I made with circles, it is time to come back to the art journal and get out of my own head.
January is still pretty new, but I like where we are going. So far, the prompts have been concept-based. “Celebrate” and “Sunshine” are what I’ve gotten done, and as you can see, I’m still enjoying circles.
I happy to have things to pull my brain from its rut.
Winter cold and wet is an opportunity for art, sewing, and reading. I just finished David McCullough’s giant biography of Harry Truman, and it was enjoyable and informative. It felt good to read about a President who, though very much in over his head, made an honest effort to do the job well.
But with current political drama becoming almost overwhelming, I am happy to say goodbye to Harry’s battles, and move on to something … lighter.
And I’ve chosen a very different path. The late Peter Mayle, who retired from a London advertising firm to live in the south of France, wrote delightful stories about his life and his neighbors. His first collection was “A Year in Provence”, which made him famous and was made into a film. This second volume is “Toujours Provence” and continues his explorations of the quirky characters he meets.
He tells of a fellow in the next village over who is taught toads to sing LaMarseilles for the France’s bicentennial. This places the story in 1989, about as topical as his stories get. In another essay, Mayle describes, in wincing detail, the difficulties of a simple plumbing repair to his ancient house in the hills.
All of these misadventures happen under the blazing Provençal sunshine. One August, when it was 85 degrees by breakfast and even the wild hogs slept in the shade, Peter tells of driving to Chateau Neuf de Pape for a ‘degustation’, a wine tasting, that included two enormous meals and countless glasses of wine. After a stultifying lunch, he napped under a tree until awoken for an equally paralyzing dinner.
It is pleasant, these damp, chilly days, to mentally wander the hills of the Luberon, just above Marseilles, with an eccentric, literate Brit as a guide. It sends me to sleep with sunshine.