10 Things Saving My Life Right Now

In my 40th year, I have discovered the joy of lists. I make them on my phone, on scraps of paper, in my sketchbook, and now, here on my blog. Here are ten small things making a big difference in my life right now. 

1. The Lazy Genius Podcast. A new discovery for me. The tagline was all I needed to be hooked: be a genius about the things that matter and lazy about the things that don’t. My priorities have been off lately; or, rather, non-existent. I’ve been putting as much effort into finding matching socks as I am developing new painting ideas. In fact, this podcast is the reason for this post at all. Host, Kendra Adachi, has a couple episodes I listened to recently where she lists ten things saving her life right now and encourages listeners to do the same. Voila. I’m doing it. It feels good to name what’s working.

2. 10 minute yoga. I have painfully tight hamstrings, love the idea of yoga, and almost never do it. Because I can’t fit it in. My cup already runneth over. But the past couple weeks, I’ve given myself permission to do it in smaller quantities and still say it counts. Ten minutes I can manage. Ten minutes for five days, and I’ve got more yoga miles logged than I normally do in a month. My current favorite is Yoga with Kassandra on youtube mostly because she has so many ten minute options. I can fit them in almost any time of day. My hamstrings are thanking me.

3. A reusable cup with a straw. I’ve been drinking water out of a large, fancy, expensive Yeti water bottle for a year or so now. It’s got a cap with a straw-like contraption that lifts up to drink, but it’s just not the same. Sometimes, I like to really guzzle. When I’ve got a straw, I drink more water. Just a fact. Getting a less expensive cup has upped my water game by 75% (just kidding, I have no idea by how much, but definitely a big increase). Hydration has made me feel better. My skin looks good. This cup is also smaller than the Yeti, and I like the feeling of drinking the whole thing first thing in the morning and filling it up again vs. less refills with the bigger one. Not sure what that says about me, but it’s working.

4. Heavy Duty Paint Tube Wringer like this one. GAME CHANGER. Not exaggerating. I know not everyone who reads this is an artist, but even if you are just a casual one, a dabbler, or a hobbyist, I cannot recommend this product enough! I’ve had a plastic, cheaper version of this for years– there is just no comparison. Upgrading to this bad boy has revolutionized my studio time. I can get all the paint out of the tube cleanly and easily. I’ve been working my way through the overwhelming pile of ⅔ empty tubes I’ve (probably for years now) just tossed aside in favor of a new tube to spare the hassle of fighting the last bits out.

5. Hugs. Both the boys who are still at home have begun to really like giving and getting them (don’t tell the little one that I’ve noticed it). I often just have to open my arms (with eye contact) and someone in my house is sure to fall into them. And hugs (caveat: with people I know very well) are my love language.

6. Reading on my porch. The weather in South Mississippi is currently perfect, and I expect it to be so for at least another 24 hours before the oppressive heat sets in. I have taken to reading on my porch couch as a prelude to short little live-changing naps. 

7. Gummy vitamins. For years I’ve invested in fancy vitamins packets I would, more often than not, forget to take. Because my youngest is obsessed with his gummy vitamins and asks daily, “can I have my vitamins now,” I decided to buy an adult version. I’ve not skipped a day since getting them. They are so good. I’ve noticed a big difference mostly in my fingernails which used to break often but now grow quickly and are far stronger. 

8. Sarah Ellen. She is my one, shining star of an employee. My company of 1 doubled in size– talk about growth! In the spirit of the lazy genius way, I’ve worked really hard on prioritizing the things that matter most to me (my paintings, this blog) and giving more of the other tasks to Sarah Ellen who, honestly, hits them out of the park. It tastes like liberation.

9. Poetry. Last month I was painting at a wedding in Audubon park which has some of the most magnificent oak trees. They never fail to mesmerize me. I was busy setting up, sketching, and fighting the wind, so I couldn’t just pull out my phone, but I found myself reaching for Mary Oliver’s Poem, “When I am among the Trees.” I didn’t actually know exactly how it went, and I didn’t have the free hands to look it up. So on my hour + drive home, I traded in my normal podcast routine for playing the poem being recited aloud on youtube over and over again until I’d memorized it. It took me the entire ride, but it was worth it. The very next time I had an outdoor wedding, I easily accessed the poem (from my brain). I’ve turned to it often since then. Because now I have it, cherish it, in a way I just couldn’t before I’d memorized it. Now I can, as Billy Collins says “walk inside the poem’s room and feel the walls for a light switch” whenever I like. 

I also recently discovered the New Yorker’s poetry podcast where host Kevin Young masterfully interviews contemporary poets who read a poem from another poet in the magazine’s archives and then read one of their own poems. These are refreshingly insightful but still very accessible discussions of beautiful poems.  If you like contemporary poetry, it’s a must listen.

10. Grocery Delivery. ‘Nuff said. 

That’s my list. If there were a theme, I’d say it’s something about guilt, and mostly purging it by focusing on what matters to me without apology.

Do you use any of these things or have something great you’ve recently discovered? What is saving your life right now? I would LOVE to know in the comments. 

Written by Denise Hopkins

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“Persistence” 15×30, oil on canvas

This is a backwards “s” painting. I’ll explain.

I’ve been having this memory playing on repeat in my mind recently. I was around six years old and reading a book with my dad. I don’t remember the book, only that it had one of those “This book belongs to” pages in the beginning. My dad asked me to write my name, which I did. Both the “s’s” were backwards. So he told me to do the one at the end of Hopkins again. So I did. Backwards. Try again he urged. Backwards again. I just can’t do it, I told him. He didn’t let up. Perhaps uncharacteristically calm, he just assured me that I could and remained unconcerned that it was taking so many missteps to get there. I remember that I was writing in pen and absolutely horrified that my mistakes were being so permanently recorded in an actual book. 

I have a very clear picture of two rows of backwards “s’s” ending in one that faced the right way. Something like this:

This isn’t the part where I tell you that practice makes perfect. 

Because it doesn’t, and it can’t.

What transpired in that children’s book was what has transpired ever since. The result was far from perfect. My name had at least ten too many letters at the end, the majority of which were backwards. But my dad looked at it with a pride that engendered some in me too. I had finally figured it out! 

I’ve been working on the painting that begins this post for years, and it was always just a little “off.” There was never a human figure in it until recently, and when she came into the painting, she did so slowly. I was cautiously thrilled to discover her, and I kept thinking, “Finally.”

The iteration just before this final version included a vase, the textures of which you can still see in the woman’s face— those textures are my backwards “s’s,” and, unlike when I was six years old, now, I adore them.

I am more proud of this painting than I am of the ones that came swiftly, without trial, error, sweat, or tears. 

I think this might be true: There are never too many tries. No wasted efforts. No such thing as perfect, and beauty to be found in every crevice. 

“Persistence” hits the website along with 14 other new paintings Tuesday, April 26th at 9 am. It will also be available as a print. Subscribers will get special pricing. 

As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Let me know what you think and if your imperfect persistence has ever paid off.

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Painting what I once most feared.

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 “Flew The Nest” 18×24, oil on canvas

What do you call a cross between a daydream and a nightmare? Whatever the word is, I had a recurring one when I was a kid. I would often imagine that I had a very rare disease that unbeknownst to me made all my thoughts audible to other people. My parents, having been told about the disease from doctors and knowing it would prevent me from functioning in the world if I knew about it, conspired with the whole community to keep it a secret from me. Laws were passed that stated no one could so much as lift an eyebrow to react to whatever they heard in my thoughts no matter how crazy, funny, outrageous, or ridiculous. There was no hiding anything from anyone. I was thoroughly and perpetually exposed, and, in the world of the dream, just beginning to realize it. 

I’m not sure exactly why I let this dream play out so many times other than I felt sure that the most terrifying thing in the world would be to have my innermost thoughts exposed with no ability to filter, control, edit, or even misrepresent them. 

Lately I’ve been painting women with, for lack of a more eloquent way to say it, “stuff” on their heads. When people ask, I tell them all that “stuff” is their thoughts. It’s always just a touch chaotic even when it’s blooming or beautiful. 

It occurred to me recently that, in a way, I’ve been illustrating one of my greatest childhood fears– the thoughts are not invisible and stored internally but take on actual shapes and contours that manifest themselves outside the bodies from which they come. They have weight. In “Flew the Nest” in particular, the swirling thoughts started to form what looked like a nest to me. So I, at the very end and without having planned to, painted a hummingbird near where the heart would be. The bird has left the comfortable nest of thoughts. The invisible and abstract have taken shape, have been made visible and concrete. They were let out. Shared.

It turns out, I don’t have the audible-thoughts disease. My thoughts and ideas, like yours, are invisible until I let them out– in a conversation, a look, a gesture, and more often than not, a painting. I get to control when and how and in what context they are revealed. I get to share them when and how I choose to. I’m not a bug, pinned and wriggling on the wall (hat tip, Prufrock) and how good that is. 

I’m learning to have a healthier relationship with my thoughts. In a perfect world, I’d never bury them or let them take over entire canvases. I’d look at them and let them go. I’d share when they beckon and keep them inside when they are content to be there and I am content to host them. The ones that fly the nest would do so without fear or judgment. They would do so with sincerity and kindness.

I didn’t start “Flew the Nest” with any of these ideas about it. They grew as it grew. I very much relate to Joan Didion’s famous line, “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” So often I can only understand what I’m thinking after I’ve written about it. But before even that, to understand my own interior world, I’ve got one more step before writing. I’ve got to paint about it. 

Not all my paintings make me feel particularly proud, but “Flew the Nest” does. It reminds me of how far I’ve come– from a soft-spoken and reserved child to someone who discovered her strength was located in the very thing she used to most fear– vulnerability. This painting has a gentleness to it I’ve tried to replicate and can’t quite. It went through countless changes, additions, and rounds of scraping off; there was doing and redoing. There are layers. It makes me think. 

If anything in “Flew the Nest” speaks to you, I’d love to know about it in the comments.

Day 31. Group Effort

“A lot going on in there” 16×20, oil on canvas

 

I had a good feeling about it, so before I went to bed last night, I snapped a photo of the bud on my orchid plant that looked most on the brink of blooming. By the morning, it had opened.

I’m not going to romanticize this (too much), but I will say that the timing was good. I’d been wanting to see a bloom by the last day of the 31 in 31. I got one, and I can’t help but see it as a little nod to the month’s journey, a little gift just as we cross the finish line.

I say “we” because this year, so many other artists, writers, and one lovely musician joined me in doing one creative thing every day (or most days) and their words, images, and melodies have been both great company and great inspiration throughout the month. I had a small painting ready to post for my day 31. It was a figure study I’d done at the same time as yesterday’s, but after seeing the orchid bloom, it didn’t feel quite right to end the month with what I’d originally intended.

So I pulled out a painting I had been working on before January even began and have not touched the whole month. Until this morning.  If it were a story it was stuck with no resolution. I just didn’t know how to bring it to its natural conclusion even though I felt like it was almost there. So this morning I played around with it for a bit, added the orchid that had bloomed as well as the buds that had not yet. I wanted to add some lines from a poem written by Caroline, a poet from the 31 in 31 group, to the background so I pulled up the group page and started scrolling for it. I was immediately struck by some little line drawings done by one of the 31 in 31 artists, John, so I scribbled a few of his shapes into the painting and then kept scrolling. You might be able to make them out in the detail shot below.

I wanted to add something from each post I saw as I scrolled, but I realized so much of it was already there: Donna’s pink flowers, the lush gardens behind Myra’s birds, the selfie of Greg’s photography series, a little of both the hope and loss of the writers in the tangles of the wilderness from which the flowers bloom. If I had another month, I would include something from everyone. I’d tuck a little piece of each of them away in all that wild.

It’s not my favorite painting nor am I even sure it found it’s conclusion. But it feels right for today. It feels like the end.

Coach Bennett, the running coach whose voice I listen to repeatedly on my running app and have been talking about on and off this whole month, always says at the end of a run: “I’ll see you at your next starting line.” Well, friends, I’m going to soak this one up for a day or two. I may even go grab a massage or take myself out to lunch tomorrow. But I can’t wait to see you on the next starting line. Thank you so much for participating, following along, sending words of encouragement, or sharing your insights.

If you’d like to participate in next year’s 31, the starting line can start today by joining the group. Just click here and then “join group”.

And please consider joining us at the gallery on February 4th for a Celebration of the 31. I’ll have all my paintings on display as well as those of guest artists from the 31. There will be live music (courtesy of that lovely musician I was telling you about) and (if you don’t know me by now, you will never ever know me) plenty of wine.

Day 30. Finish Lines

“Consider” 6×6, oil on canvas

A 5k is 3.1 miles. I like to think of my January as a 5k, and if so, we’ve just crossed mile three and can sprint to the finish. Or laboriously drag ourselves with whatever energy we have left across the line. 

I’m somewhere in between.

Today’s painting is a little figure study done with a brush. I wanted to zoom out of my birds-in- the- wilderness-of-their-hair series and simplify. 

And so here we are. All but done. If you’ve been doing this 31 day practice with me, I want to encourage you to do a few things. First, measure your success in as many ways as you can, and make an actual list (see the start of mine below). Two, put all your pieces from the month in one place. There’s a free app called “gandr” that allows you to easily and quickly make a collage of your images. If you’ve been writing, consider putting all your entries into the same document. Even if there’s not 31, I’d be willing to bet there’s more than enough. 

My Success List (first draft):

1. Further developed a series I’ve been hooked on

2. Worked a lot with a brush which I haven’t done in quite some time

3. Bought myself new brushes when I realized the old crusty ones weren’t cutting it

4. Painted all small paintings instead of getting overwhelmed with the larger ones that were definitely beckoning me

5. Explored oil on paper– something I’ve said I would do for years now

6. Connected with others in the 31

7. Sometimes painted when I didn’t feel like it

8. Painted extra when I did feel like it so I could take breaks when I needed them

9. Took lots of breaks

10. Painted a mini canvas before one of my weddings started 

11. Waited before posting some pieces that needed revision

12. Threw a couple in the trash that were making me pull my hair out

13. Wrote long blog posts

14. Wrote super short blog posts

15. Discovered new poetry

16. Listened to good advice

17. Took notes while running (really proud of this one)

18. Bought all my canvases before January started

19. Experimented with acrylic paint

Who knows, maybe be tomorrow my list will be 31 items long. In the meantime, I’d love to see your list and hear how you are measuring success.