Linger, Late Bloomer, Linger

goldfinch painting

 

Late Bloomer

 

In the eighties, my mom read me a book that really spoke to me. I still have “Leo the Late Bloomer” and have read it to my son countless times. Leo is a lion who doesn’t immediately catch on to things, but, at the end, when his parents stop worrying about if he will “bloom” or not, he just does. Even as a small child, I knew I was Leo. 

late bloomerI was bad at school before I wasn’t. I didn’t make the basketball team in junior high, and now, well, just ask my fourteen year old stepson who loves when we hustle the neighborhood kids in two on two. I started painting in my twenties and not as a young child. I didn’t read early or particularly often. My love of books was a slow burn– a hint of smoke that rose slowly into a comforting fire in my bones.

I didn’t get on social media until way after it was ubiquitous. I was shy for most of my life. I avoided crowds and parties before I learned to delight in them. I went through a divorce before I married my person.

I’m writing this down more for me than for any other reason– a gentle reminder because sometimes I think of my life, of my art, as some place I have to get to and I’m not even close. I catch myself saying things like, “Certainly, by now…”  and think of success only as on some linear track. I’m either running forward but through peanut butter or smoothly backtracking. I forget that there’s a version of myself that would never have dreamed where I am now was ever possible. How upset she would be to learn that very often I take both big and small successes for granted.

 

Lingerer

 

“Do you have time to linger?” Mary Oliver asks in her poem “Invitation,” “for just a little while out of your busy and very important day.” She then invites us to watch goldfinches that have gathered in a field of thistles. Their songs compete, yes, but “not for the sake of winning but for sheer delight and gratitude.” 

 

It is a serious thing

Just to be alive

On this fresh morning

In the broken world

 

Fresh morning. Broken world– how simply she describes that gut-wrenching and hope-filled dilemma. 

To linger is not to race, multitask, obsess or pull out each newly graying hair from the sides of my head.  To linger is to notice, to enjoy, to be present in a broken world. 

Since I met Leo as a child, I’ve quite happily thought of myself as a late bloomer. Just because the blooms take a little longer, doesn’t mean they won’t come or won’t be spectacular. But even though the term was always comforting rather than derogatory, I’m wondering if maybe I might swap late for “lingerer.” Part of being late is lingering, and lingering, Oliver reminds me, is good.  

I’m trying to remember that how things start isn’t how they have to end, that there is an ever-present open invitation to linger. Slowing down is often harder and more important than speeding up. Truthfully, I started this post from a place of disappointment and needed these reminders. I’d just received a small but meaningful art rejection, the kind that somehow, insanely, holds more weight than a thousand successes, a million compliments. 

I’m ending with the hope of the goldfinches. The ones whose invitation I have whole-heartedly accepted. The painting that starts this post is from a couple years ago. The new series I am working on is about goldfinches too, primarily Mary Oliver’s poem and the invitation it extends. The images are a bit different than the ones I’ve done before. And even though they are inspired by the goldfinches of the poem, some of them don’t include literal birds at all. I am excited and perhaps just a little nervous to start sharing them with you in the upcoming days and weeks.

In the meantime, I would absolutely love to know if there is anything in this post that resonates with you– if you have ever felt late to bloom, eager to linger, full of both disappointment and of hope.  

 

 

Invitation by Mary Oliver

 

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
melodiously
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude –
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

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Rooted Vagabond

“Pass Christian Heron” 15x 30, oil on canvas. Available

She’s not here anymore but oh, when she was.

We planted twenty eight pots of bamboo in the hope and firm belief that it will grow tall and wild, a large sprawling green fence between our backyard and the train tracks. Yesterday I took a nap on the porch and when the train came, my whole body shook. Half asleep, I imagined I was on a boat and it was rocking, not dangerously, but decidedly. The water so sure of itself. 

We had to move bamboo number one over to the twenty eighth spot when they put up the fence in the front of the house because it was in the way. That’s where I stood. Right on number twenty eight to watch her. Put my elbows up on the chain link we hope will be overtaken by the bamboo one day. Her webbed feet on the tracks, probably shaped a little by them, she’s stood there so many times, maybe waiting for a certain train, one that doesn’t seem to come. She’s a stationary traveller. A rooted vagabond.

She let me watch her for a while. Turned her head a few times so I could see all those glorious angles of her neck and beak. A few times she turned right toward me so that her face became just one narrow line, like a train coming, head on, but far in the distance. Still safe. The dog, who protects us from her own reflection in the window at dusk, didn’t even notice her. She stood with me by bamboo twenty-eight but oblivious, unconcerned. Unmoved. Unchanged. 

I wondered how I might go about leaving some treat for her– a piece of fish perhaps?– when I realized this relationship, unlike so many of my others, was not about providing for or showing off. This wasn’t about what she needs from me. “I see you” is exactly enough. I know she sees me too. Not my talent, not my lack of talent, not how worried I am most of the time. She sees some form, possibly but probably not a threat, still as she is, just moving my head and maybe a leg every now and then. She cares as little for the dog as the dog does for her, though I know she sees her. All her contemplation takes place in the moment. No journal or painting to run off to. The moment is the art. The fear and the beauty wrapped up into just that encounter. She is all now, and I, all past and future, ask her to plant my feet right in bamboo slot number twenty eight where gnats graze my ankles and a mosquito feasts on my calf. 

I left her only to get something– a sketchbook, my computer, maybe both. Something by which I could document her either with some silly words or imperfect lines. From the corner of my eye I saw her fly away, down the tracks and out of sight. 

I’ll look for her again tomorrow while the bamboo is still low enough not to impede my view. I don’t know if she’ll remember me, our minutes of just gazing. We might just start again. I might see if I can find, once more, the present moment in the feathers on her belly– the ones I watched flutter a little in the breeze.

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Old school mix tape

Takin it back to the old school

Cause I’m an old fool 

Who’s so cool

No, it’s not downtown Covington on New Year’s eve pre-covid where the Hopkins sisters, among the oldest people in the bar and tired of not knowing any of the music, have decided to request and then get on stage to sing (almost) all of the correct lyrics to “Whoomp! There it is.” 

No, no, not that at all. It’s just the refrain I keep hearing as I think about my newest collection of paintings. Back in college, when I finally, after two semesters of pre reqs got to take painting for the first time, I quite often would paint over paintings I didn’t like. Later, as my paint got thicker and my confidence rivaled that of any 90s MC, I started to purposefully layer rowdy texture over rowdy texture, unconcerned with the difficult terrains I would later have to navigate. 

A few weeks ago, we started moving into the house that has been years in the making. I’m still painting in the garage at the old place as we are working to finish out my new studio. Knowing I’ll have to clear it all out soon, I opted to take it old school (like an old fool)– there was a stack of paintings in the corner that had been sitting there way too long. Rather than introduce more canvas into the already crowded space I’m going to have to clean out soon, I decided to try to breathe some life into the waste pile, the way I so often did in my 20s. The process was nostalgic. Half comfort food– chicken noodle soup– and half exotic new cuisine. The most gratifying part was making something old, new. Something tucked away in a corner back under the light of my studio lamp. 

And I didn’t stop there. Rather than worry, as I am so prone to do, that I wouldn’t have a cohesive collection, I went full out mix tape, painting all the small canvases I had left with some of my greatest hits subject matter– birds, abstracts, flowers, figures. There’s not a whole lot of rhyme or reason, and I flit from one subject to the next with the abandon of an almost-forty-year old singing Tag Team in front of a, let’s call them, “much younger crowd.” 

I have some big plans for my new studio. I have some outlines for some deeply cohesive series and subjects. But for now, I truly hope you’ll enjoy my mix tape collection hitting the site tomorrow, April 13 at 9 am. 

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Half the Battle

 

 

Most Mondays, especially after painting at a wedding or two over the weekend, I like to reset– think about the work I want to do for the week, take frequent walks, and make lists. Today, I started scrolling though paintings from a couple years ago, and I came upon this abstract piece I had forgotten about.

It lit a little fire in me, and I think I want to revisit this horizon line idea in some future pieces. But it’s been so long, I feel this nagging fear– what if I can’t do it? What if I need to move forward not backward?

And then, just like that, I remember, to my great relief, that this is ART. This is paint and canvas and simple little knives. There are few shoulds or have tos. There are many cans and wills and mights and coulds. Progress isn’t linear, moving around is more important than moving forward.

We will see what happens on the canvas later today, but half the battle is overcoming fear– so I’ll consider myself halfway there.

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Day 31. You do not have to be good.

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“Another Beginning” 12x12, oil on canvas 

This morning’s weather is a bit sad. The rain isn’t pounding, not threatening. Just a little grating, making soft piles of red mud in the backyard as I watch through the window.

This is the thought I keep having: how is it that after 31 days, that after seven years, I am no closer to knowing? 

Knowing what? I asked myself the very same thing. And that I don’t know either.

This is the hope: painting is not about knowing or achieving something eventually, even though I think of it that way often. There is no finish line, no trophy, no box to check. But maybe, hopefully, painting is the thing that soothes the uncertainty– that makes all the not knowing just a little bit more manageable. I think I do this 31 in 31 every year partly because it asks me to “just be.” Asks me to paint like it’s as natural to my day as eating or sleeping, brushing my teeth, or sipping coffee. Asks me to make painting an essential thing and in being essential, less profound. But more important. 

Often, I think of Mary Oliver’s poem that starts: “You do not have to be good.” and I thought about it again this morning when I was listening to the rain, looking at the stack of paintings I made this month but didn’t post, the paintings that in some way or another fell short. Which, I realize, is all of them. I do not mean that to be self deprecating. There would be no art in the world at all if falling short were not allowed. You do not have to be good, Oliver says. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert. You just have to be. 

You still belong.

You do not have to be good. The whole poem suggests you are good. You don’t have to be. You can’t help but be.

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.”

To make something in the world is to be a part of it. 

I’m a little sad this morning. Maybe that it’s “over”; maybe that I didn’t make the grand epiphanic painting I always think is lingering out there somewhere, a stroke or two away. 

But even through these quiet raindrops, which, turns out, are the perfect setting for my morning, I’m celebrating this month, these small paintings, the people who took this journey with me, and day in and day out, inspired me more than they could possibly know. It has been a pleasure taking up space with you– announcing our place in “the family of things.” 

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