Category Archives: self betterment

Artist’s Dilemma

I Did Not Draw This

I Did Not Draw This

Today I was reading in the sunroom when I heard a loud buzzing sound. I turned my head to see a gigantic insect ricocheting from window to window and at first I thought it might be a wasp, but when it stopped to rest on the wall I could see that it wasn’t.  It was like a cross between a beetle and a dragonfly and Franz Kafka, and it was quite impressive in that grotesque way that large unidentifiable bugs are.

I killed it with the Yellow Pages.

Then I put the Yellow Pages on top of the dead insect and made a mental note to ask the P-Dawg to remove it when he comes home from work. There are situations in which I will personally remove a bug that I’ve killed, but not if it’s juicy.

I went back to reading my book though there was no longer any joy in it. I knew there was a big dead bug right next to the couch and there was no way I could un-know it. It also occurred to me that instead of killing that bug, I should have tried to draw it.

One thing I feel I don’t do enough as an artiste is draw from life. This is due partly to the fact that I’m fond of mythical creatures like dragons and mermaids. I know that in order to improve, I should practice drawing real things, but the fact is that I’ve been stuck inside the house all winter, the houseplants are dead-ish, and I don’t feel like sketching a bowl of bananas. That bug was the best thing that ever happened to me from a drawing from life standpoint, and I killed it.

Eventually I went over and lifted the phone book just to see if there was anything left for me to work with.

There wasn’t.

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I Heart Art

I made a little mermaid.

When I was working on my Masters degree in Adult Education, I had to take a class in the Psychology of aging and one of the things that stuck with me most was Erik Erikson’s observation that as humans age, they have an increasing need to create and nurture things that will outlast them. I’m definitely at that stage, and I recognize it not only in my concern for raising my children to be good people, but also in my pressing need to write for posterity and to create things of physical beauty.

A few months ago, I registered for an online fiction writing course through the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Then I forgot all about it and developed an obsession with printmaking, spending all my free time hacking away at linoleum blocks and reading up about different techniques. And I discovered that when I was doing this, I had no need for writing. I started reading books about printmaking and took a renewed interest in the Japanese prints that the P-Dawg’s been collecting. While at the Cleveland Museum of Art last weekend, I found myself studying the themes and composition of the paintings instead of just viewing them from a purely aesthetic standpoint, as I always used to. Now that the online fiction course has finally started, I’m up to my eyeballs in writing assignments and all I want to do is carve linoleum.

What is happening to me?

I’m guessing, “mid-life crisis.” I suddenly feel as though I have no time to waste in trying my hand at all the things that interest me, of which, it turns out, there are many. But with each passing year I fear more that I’m doomed to be a Jack of all trades and master of none. It’s possible that my interest in printmaking is just a phase like so many others before it, but it’s like I said to my mom the other day when we were looking at some photos of the Lithuanian countryside, “I cannot help now but to see the world though the eyes of an artist.”

And my mom was like, “That’s great, but don’t quit your day job.” By which I can only assume she meant sporadic, not-for-profit blogging.

In the age of social media, I’ve noticed that more and more, with each online profile we fill out, we’re required to define ourselves succinctly. I’ve narrowed most of my bios down to “writer,” “wife,” and “mother,” but I still don’t have a published body of work to show for that first moniker. (I did complete my memoir about growing up as the daughter of immigrants stuck between two cultures. I just don’t know if it ever will – or even should be – read by a wide audience.)

And now I’m left wondering if there’s ever a definitive point when a person’s authentic self emerges, or if it’s okay to bluster around for a lifetime searching for it.

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Shuffling Confidently in the Direction of my Dreams

Wade Rouse and Rima Tessman

Remember what I said about bed and breakfasts?

I take it back.

I spent last weekend at a writing workshop hosted by best-selling author Wade Rouse, who is just as genuine and approachable as he is talented. All eleven of the assembled writers (that’s what I’m calling myself now) stayed at the historic Twin Gables Inn overlooking Lake Kalamazoo in beautiful Saugatuck, Michigan, and it was one of the most productive and relaxing weekends I’ve ever spent.

Wade is one of those authors who did not forget the little people once he achieved success in his writing career. Let’s say for example you sidled up to him with hands trembling and voice shaking after reading your work out loud and said, “I just wanted to let you know that I totally misunderstood the assignment. You probably won’t believe this, but I write very differently in real life. And I am a good mother, too. Just so you know.”

Instead of looking down his nose at you, Wade would cut his lunch hour short by twenty minutes to talk with you about your craft, provide constructive criticism, and share specifics about how to sell an idea, land an agent, publish a book. And later he would conference you and your peers in to a phone call with his agent, who would spend thirty minutes answering your newbie questions from her busy office in New York. In other words, he’s one of those rare people who genuinely want to see others succeed.

Writing, Writing, Writing

Besides gleaning useful advice at this workshop, I had the pleasure of befriending a fabulous group of fellow writers who I hope to stay in contact with for many years to come. After sitting around that beautifully set table overlooking the misty lake for three solid days, we forged a bond that only people who’ve laid their innermost fears and emotions bare can achieve in such a short space of time.

I slept soundly in my glorious pillow-topped king sized bed, ate like a queen, and was even treated to a personal tour of Saugatuck by Wade’s delightful partner, Gary. And on the last night of the workshop, after drinking one glass of wine and a chocolate martini, I even performed a few freestyle folk dance moves in the lobby of the Inn accompanied by my new friend Laura’s husband on the baby grand.

If you have been thinking seriously about writing for publication and are ready to take the next step, I would highly recommend attending one of Wade’s workshops. You’ll leave with a bag full of Michigan apple butter and wine, solid real world advice, and the belief that your dream is possible to achieve.

No Writers' Workshop Is Complete Without a Trip to the Local Winery

The View from the Inn

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Saint Peter, a Priest, and a College Student are in a Boat. . .

One summer during college, I went on a retreat with my Catholic youth group. And not just any retreat, but a canoeing retreat. It took place at Canada’s stunningly beautiful Algonquin Provincial Park and I regretted it from the moment I realized I’d have to row a canoe and occasionally even carry that canoe, plus my worldly belongings, over my own head.

It was hot, there were swarms of bees, and you couldn’t even catch a break when we stopped to rest because that was scripture reading time. The campground, when we reached it, wasn’t so much a campground as a small secluded island with no plumbing or electrical outlets to plug your curling iron in. We cooked by fire, put iodine tablets in the river water to cleanse it, and slept on the forest floor in tents.

Despite all that, Algonquin was pretty impressive. I was with my closest friends, had my eye on a handsome Quebecois, and was appreciating the beauty of creation despite myself. You can’t help but feel closer to God when you paddle by a single moose standing in shallow waters with mountains and the setting sun as backdrop. Or when you’re kicking back by the fire with a brewski and some chips.

On the last day of the retreat, after we’d packed up the campsite and put out the fires, we had the opportunity to receive the sacrament of confession. The prospect of dragging out your sins without the benefit of a confessional window to hide behind was daunting to say the least, but our chaplain – Father Sunshine – was a stand-up priest who had good rapport with young people and was always quick with a kind word or joke. Besides, after three days in the woods, we felt humble and changed. One by one, we took the plunge.

I was the last to go and when my turn came, I went to town. There was no end to my transgressions, no sin left behind. Big ones, small ones, I lifted each one individually and cast it off like refuse into the abyss. In the past I’d questioned the necessity of confession as a sacrament, believing that no mediator was needed between me and God. But there is something about laying your faults bare, about lifting them up and giving them away, that is spectacularly liberating. At least, it was very good for me.

Afterward I felt like a new person. My backpack was suddenly lighter, there was a bounce in my step. But even more importantly, I knew that in just six short hours, I’d be showering and sleeping in a real bed. What I didn’t know was that while I was going through my litany, everyone else in the group had paired up. One by one, the canoes and their occupants set off towards home base as the wind picked up and a steady rain began to pour.

Father Sunshine and I were the only two left.

He looked at me, I looked at him.

“I guess we’re buddies” he said.

Next thing you know, I’m in a boat with my confessor. It’s driving rain and I’m doing my best to keep the canoe moving forward in a straight line. Father Sunshine is patient and gives gentle advice, but in his heart of hearts I know he’s marveling at my sins. It’s a predicament to say the least, only made worse by the fact that we’re drifting farther away from the other canoes in the middle of a storm.

The only redeeming thing about the situation is that I’m about to die a saint.

After awhile, even father Sunshine starts looking worried and suggests we ask Saint Peter to keep an eye on us and give us faith. Saint Peter, of course, is the apostle who with God’s help rowed his boat safely ashore in the raging sea of Gallilee while Jesus slept.

Even in my terror, I couldn’t help but notice the poetry of the situation. Especially when, after dispensing his advice, Father Sunshine put down his oars and lit up a Marlboro Light.

“Keep rowing,” he told me, “I have faith in you.”

I don’t know how we made it out alive, but it was the best penance I ever did.

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