I made a jar out of clay, and then over about three days, I made a lid for it. It fit so perfectly, and was integrated into the lines of the jar. Today I broke it. I was so disappointed! I tried to tweak it, even though I thought it looked perfect.
I didn’t even get a picture of it.
This happens. Things break. I don’t leave well enough alone. I disappoint myself. I try again. The cat stole my sponge again.
That’s a fitting end for this year, I guess.
I’m making a new lid, and we’re about to start a new year.
I’m not looking for some magical new beginning. We continue where we left off, and try to do our best. It’s hard to feel hopeful when so much of the news is bad. I try to maintain hope right here, and manifest positive change within my own reach. I believe this is possible.
I’ve been fortunate to have full time work during this global pandemic. I have more interests than I have time to devote to them, and a mind that is open to learning new things. Like pottery. Like the Finnish language. Like my family tree.
I find my own thoughts to be entertaining. As I generally do in winter, I make plans for the places we will visit and things we will do in the spring and summer.
As a younger person, I don’t think I had a big picture plan for my life. I just kind of let one day fade into the next. Once I got into college, I made plans for where I would spend the school year or the summer, but I really think my style was to watch how things unfolded. I could abandon anything. I saw myself as an artist, but I didn’t envision myself accomplishing, or succeeding at anything. That came later.
I’m still kind of that way. I don’t move around anymore, but I’m still not very businesslike in my approach to life.
What I’ve always wanted to do is to express myself through art. It wasn’t something I decided to do, I just kept trying it. The process of expressing involves internal archaeology and philosophy. I have to know what makes me tick. It’s very individual and I thought that made me unique.
I no longer believe that I am unique. I’m made of other people. Those who have lived their life, and have passed their DNA on to me, live in me now. I’m not me. I’m a combination of them. We’re a biomass that oozes from prehistory into the present day, an unbroken chain of heredity that, for this moment, culminates in me.
I am 60 years old, with no offspring to carry my progeny into the future.
When I adopted my kids, I adopted their biological families, too.
From the very beginning, we agreed that they would maintain contact wherever possible. In one case, we had the challenge of a closed adoption. We eventually made that contact, and had an amazing trip visiting them.
With others, we make frequent video calls.
This week, I was able to track down the ancestors of my youngest two, and discovered a colorful history woven over the past five hundred years.
They are now part of my family tree.
Through my grandson, I am related to half of the county, even though I was an immigrant to Minnesota over 30 years ago.
If my offspring had survived in utero, and grown to pass on my genes, I wouldn’t have the wonderful kids that have come into my life through other means.
This is not uncommon. My great grandmother was adopted. My youngest two kids’ great grandmother was adopted.
This is how our story plays out.
Traits are inherited, but they can be passed on in other ways, too.
I want to raise my kids to believe in themselves, and to dig deep into their history, unearthing the things that make them unique, and the things that make them so much like the rest of us. In this way, we can tell our story and it will be authentic and valuable.
A new year is just around the corner. I do not make New Years resolutions. To me, they just set you up to feel bad when you break them. Changes don’t happen with the click of the second hand at midnight. I want to accomplish new things. I want to make healthier choices. I want to be more kind to myself and others. I want to implement changes slowly, like building a wall out of bricks. I want deliberate change to be cemented into me so that it will last a lifetime, or until I take a wrecking ball to it because I found something even better.
When we develop some proficiency in a particular skill or field, we can teach it by doing it, and allowing someone else in. Someone who cares to learn it, like we did. You don’t have to be trained as a teacher in order to mentor someone.
You can pass along what you know, and you can learn more in the process.
I’ve learned to do things because other people have been generous and patient with me. That is something I’d like to do in the coming year.
I don’t think I have a creative zone. That’s my baseline. On my days off, I get out of bed and go to my studio. I have ongoing projects that I think about while I’m laying in bed. There are always a few canvases in progress, and pots waiting for that perfect hardness to draw on. My idle hands will pick up a pen and fill sketchbook pages with no worry or pressure about the product. There is nothing to lose. I don’t need to impress anyone. I don’t have to be right.
If you were to ask me why I do something a certain way, the answer I give you may have never occurred to me before. I just needed someone to ask me so that I could put that reason into words. You will have unintentionally opened a door or window for me.
Sometimes, I’ve got an answer ready because there are hidden messages or attached memories, and I’m glad you asked.
It’s important for me to share my work with others, because art is a language. It communicates if it finds an audience.
The driving force that inspires me is my desire to express myself through art. Life can be beautiful, and I want to share my impressions of it, but beauty is subjective, and it’s not the only thing worth documenting. I want to say something new, if there is something new to be said. I think the closest I can come is to say things from my perspective. No one else can do that. At the same time, I rely on, and am inspired by what has come before me. My predecessors have worked out a lot of the problems in art for me, and they have also set a precedent for doing what I’m doing and saying what I’m saying. Why do I put fish in trees? Why do I put fish on ceramic pieces? I have answers for those questions. I have to strike a balance between innovation and relatability.
I think my greatest accomplishment in art has been finding comfort and enjoyment in my own process of creating. This acceptance or embracing of myself has made me self sufficient in my creative endeavors. That doesn’t mean I am detached from the world and community around me. Inspiration comes in and expression of that goes out in my visual voice. I move the pieces around and present my version of things.
I work a full time job during the school year, but in the summertime I am free to structure my day as I like to. This means laying in bed as long as I want to, then spending a lot of time outdoors. I take my kids to rivers and lakes, hiking trails and campgrounds. We crawl though culverts, ride our bikes and sit by fires. I bring my camera and my sketchbook. I hang out with friends. I cook and eat.
The whole time, I’m noticing the color and texture of rock walls, tree branches and clouds overhead. This environment finds its way into what I produce. I tend to stay up late when I don’t have to be up for work in the morning.
Whenever I feel like it, I follow the urge to draw, paint or write. This is not something I stress over.
My art expresses my life, but in ways that might not be apparent without some explanation. The motivation may be specific to me, but hopefully we will enter into a dialogue, spoken or not. You will bring your story with you and you might see that we’re not so different. You might wonder at something I’ve done that seems familiar. Let’s pour a cup of coffee and compare notes.
My family is creative. I didn’t know this this for a long time.
In retirement, my dad did a lot of small paintings. He is a communicator. My mother wrote well, though I doubt she ever would have admitted it. My grandfather was a painter and art teacher. My aunt was thought of as the artist in the family, and my cousin is a passionate artist.
Children absorb so much information, it is no wonder our childhoods play such a role in our art.
I think we remember the first time we did things, and then those first experiences set the tone for the next time. As children, we built the foundation that shaped the rest of our life. We can change, but when we fish in our winding conscious stream, we may reel in something we thought we had forgotten. My advice is to look at it carefully. Don’t be afraid of it, even if it has spikes and thrashes around. Try to be kind to it. See what it has to tell you and let it go. Those are your spikes.
2020 has been a rough year. They come that way sometimes. But it’s been a year, and it’s winding down. The universe doesn’t care about our calendars. It’s like when you cross a state line and nothing really changes. Borders and calendar dates are just things we made up in our minds in an attempt to define certain things, and then we act like our silly demarcations rule the thing we superimposed them over.
Anyway, it’s been a wonderful year, too.
Collectively, we’ve been given the opportunity to see things a little differently. To appreciate things more. To appreciate people more.
The first day of January will look a lot like December, kind of the way Wisconsin looks a lot like Minnesota.
My house is almost empty this year, on the night before Christmas Eve. We’ll get through this, a little more self reliant than we were. There are fewer people to drink the egg nog, and eat the pie. Fewer of us on the couch watching movies.
I keep getting that feeling that I’m doing the same thing over and over…
I repeat themes. I do it again and again, yet each one is a little different. So I’m putting drawings of fish on pottery. They swim out of the stylus and onto the clay. If I caught 20 herrings in Lake Superior, I bet they would all look pretty similar. I’m developing my voice in my pottery, and I need to allow the pieces to look congruous. I don’t put fish on every piece. When I do put fish onto a pot, I hope it’s obvious that this is something I did. I’m leaving my mark.
There is no reason for me to feel bad about it.
In the place where I have my genealogical roots, they’ve been decorating ceramic pots with fish for hundreds of years. It makes me feel somehow connected to my ancestors, to adopt that motif in my own way today.
What I’m doing in clay feels like a continuation of what I often paint.
Over the past month or so, I’ve been working on a commission painting. It may be more honest to say I’ve been avoiding working on it. I love to paint. I paint for fun. But when another person has an expectation about what it will look like, I kind of freeze up. Again, there is no reason for me to feel this way. When the deadline is looming, I no longer have the choice to put it off.
I give myself pep talks.
I paint a little bit, and then throw another pot, or decorate one of the pots that are in various stages of drying. I’m not usually meticulous and full of self doubt about my art. I think that what I’m feeling finds its way into the work. I need to relax and enjoy the process. I feel what I feel and I do what I do. Besides, what an honor to have someone want an image painted by my hand.
Tonight is the darkest night of the year. Our Christmas lights are glowing for any passers-by, and we lit a bonfire beneath a hazy moon. We need to be comfortable in the dark, or we’ll miss out on half of our life.
It’s not so cold out, and there’s no wind. I chopped up some wood and Raymond and I looked into the fire remembering those we’ve lost, and the things that made us feel gloomy this year. It’s not sad to let go of the gloominess those things brought. We will always remember our loved ones. Though we still grieve, we release the grip of sadness and watch it waft up in smoke, through the branches and into what lies beyond.
Others were here and left us for other places. We wish them well. We are different because they were here.
We live, we learn, we live some more until we don’t anymore. Then others can throw a piece of wood onto the fire and remember us.
There is more light coming. Let’s not waste it.
I definitely consider myself to be a spiritual person. We’re made of physical matter, and animated by something spiritual. The tangible part of us expresses what the invisible part bids it to. That intangible part isn’t a passenger in the body, just as we aren’t hitchhikers in the universe. We’re made of stardust, and our spirits are made of synapses firing between our cells.
The latest smartphone is useless without the software, and the software is nothing without the device that makes it work.
That’s how I see us. When the device no longer works, we burn it or bury it.
What an amazing thing a fully functioning body is! It can see and hear and move around. It can reproduce. It can eat and drink and do work. It can draw conclusions. It can observe and contemplate. It can wonder and express. It can share its conclusions and inspire others through creative expression.
If another person finds what I’ve done beneficial, that can be a wonderful thing. We can enhance the experience for each other. While we are all different, we are also very much alike.
If you share with me what you have spent a lot of time thinking about or working on, I can understand or at least be aware of it through your generosity.
Each one of us is different from each other. If you have a mental or physical disability, it doesn’t make you less than the highest functioning athlete or genius. You will have something to say that they will not, just because you are you. Your experience is valid and valuable.
You might get praise for your talent or insight. You might get criticism. Enjoy it or learn from it, but please don’t let it make or break you.