Day 14. Shouts for Joy

“Out on a Limb” 10x10, oil on canvas, $300.00

Poetry has been a gift, a comfort, and a friend to me during quarantine, and I thought this one particularly appropriate. 

The Bluebird

by Emily Dickinson

Before you thought of spring,

Except as a surmise,

You see, God bless his suddenness,

A fellow in the skies

Of independent hues,

A little weather-worn,

Inspiriting habiliments

Of indigo and brown.

With specimens of song,

As if for you to choose,

Discretion in the interval,

With gay delays he goes

To some superior tree

Without a single leaf,

And shouts for joy to nobody

But his seraphic self!

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Day 13. Relationships

“Loner” 6x6, oil on canvas, $125.00 

If I could tell you just one thing…

I impulse bought this book the other week because when I opened it up, it landed on this quote:

“The quality of your life depends on the quality of your relationships. Not on your achievements, not on how smart you are, not on how rich you are, but on the quality of your relationships, which are basically a reflection of your sense of decency, your ability to think of others, your generosity.” — Esther Perel. 

Yes, I thought. Yes. 

Herons are solitary creatures– roaming shallow bits of river or ocean like lonely ghosts with some important message to share if only we could get close enough without them evaporating into flight. 

Today’s Heron, however, reminds me not of that independent nature they so effortlessly model, but of the relationship I have with my future mother-in-law. She shared a photograph of a heron last week, which I’ve used as a reference for this painting. Her friendship, maybe which began over a mutual affection for birds, is just one of the many riches I have, especially in these times of isolation. 

If we were making our own book, could you finish this sentence? If I could tell you just one thing….

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Day 12. Waste Not

“Waste Not’ 6x6, oil on canvas $125.00

My great-grandmother was born in 1905. She was a redhead though I never saw it. Her full head of thick, wiry white hair made its appearance long before I was born in 1981. Her name was Pansy, and to this day I can’t look at those delicate little flowers without thinking about her. Over the years, I’ve come to adore all flower names for people. If my son Ezra had been a girl, Rose, Camille, and Violet would have been strong contenders. 

Pansy, or as we called her, “Granny”, had a drawer full of previously used and cleaned saran wrap and tin foil, folded up and ready to use again. She saved coffee cans and ziplock bags. There was nothing that could not be repurposed. She paired the nicer Mardi Gras beads with her favorite outfits. 

I watched her make a carrot cake once. I was ready to throw the bowl in the sink after pouring the batter into the pan to be baked. She told me no. I still have never seen someone scrape the batter so cleanly and thoroughly into the baking pan such that not a speck of it could be seen left clinging to the mixing bowl. Spotless. None of our efforts wasted. 

I suppose a great depression can do that to a person and then reach through generations. I think about my great grandmother when I discover forgotten leftovers in the back corner of the fridge and have to throw them away. I may as well be some kind of celebrity on my way to a Gatsby party with that kind of aloof, flashy wealth. 

These days, I find myself eating the heel of the bread, rationing the toilet paper I never once thought about before, choosing foods that come in cans and have long shelf lives. I am using what I have, rather than running to the store at my slightest whim or fancy. Thank you, Granny, for modeling for me the preciousness of every resource. 

I can see today’s flowers (especially the vase, which I’ve made up entirely) on a table at my great grandmother’s condo next to a carrot cake freshly made. She delighted in simple, pretty things, held onto them for years and could tell you long and winding origin stories about them. In fact, now that I think about it, she had a clock on the wall with a different bird on each hour. To her delight, the clock would chirp. Could that memory be the gentle force that stirs in my heart every time I see or paint a bird?

I hope you enjoy today’s painting. I’m also including Granny’s famous carrot cake recipe (in her own handwriting). If you decide to give it a go, please let me know. And please, try to get every speck of batter into the pan. Granny would hate to see anything she’s inspired go to waste.

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Day 11. Reunited

“Old Friend”, 6x6, oil on canvas $125

I started my painting career back in 2014 with one subject matter in mind: pelicans. After today’s painting, I’d wondered how long it had been since I’d painted one. 

I remember you, I said to the organic shapes of the neck and body, the white and yellow of the tip of the head. You’ve always been there. On my countless drives across the causeway and on my walks along the beach. That constant reassuring presence in my life: It will be okay you seem to say with those long, effortless wings, those precise nosedives into open waters.

The gravity of everything fell on me hard this morning when I was walking the dog. I opened the door feeling fine, turned the corner of the block and the heaviness all around kind of settled on my shoulders. My stride slowed. My heart ached. I needed a pelican. Maybe you do too? 

Is there a sight in nature that gives you a sense of peace and comfort? I have a feeling I’ll be painting daily for quite some time– I would love to try some new things.

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Day 10. Emotional Roller Coaster

“Emotional Roller Coaster” 12x12, oil on canvas, $360.00

I’ve moved my studio outside and expanded my world by a few hundred square feet. Instead of connecting with extended family and friends, I am connecting with the occasional breeze and the sun’s heat patting me on the back. You can do this, it says. I find it reassuring until I get hot, and so move my easel another foot or two into the shade. 

I’ve painted another bouquet today. Another bouquet with another host of flower personalities– the plastered-on smile of the big pink one, the not-another-day-of-this white droopy one, the genuine cheer of the reddest of reds one. And then, for good measure, a whole lot of little buds that haven’t opened up yet at all. Except for the one on the far left. It’s just beginning to bloom. Even in that tiny vase. Even though it won’t last but a week or two. 

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Day 9. Small Kindnesses

“Small Kindesses” 6x6, oil on canvas $125

I’ve had a lot of time for birdwatching these days. The titmice are still my favorites at the feeder. Such dark, lovely eyes. 

I miss people though. High fives. Cocktails on a patio with good conversation that leads to belly laughs. Making groceries twice in one day because I forgot some “essential” ingredient like cilantro. I miss my mom’s hug and my sister’s, “should we open another bottle?” I even miss the awkward small talk I thought I hated when I am waiting in line or picking my kid up from school. 

The following poem feels exactly right. 

Small Kindnesses

by Danusha Lameris

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk

down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs

to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”

when someone sneezes, a leftover

from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.

And sometimes, when you spill lemons

from your grocery bag, someone else will help you

pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.

We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,

and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile

at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress

to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,

and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.

We have so little of each other, now. So far

from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.

What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these

fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,

have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”

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