“It’s better when it’s crunchy” says Jack. He pulls his, now murky blue teddie through his legs, positions it like a loin cloth. It’s his special thing, his favorite crunchy thing he’s ever seen. I wash it clean and the next day it’s crunchy again, just the way he likes it. Fiona has one too, Tiny. Hers is soft and smells good, she sucks her thumb and kneads Tiny with her hand. I have no reason to take Fiona’s Tiny away. Jacks on the other hand, needs immediate removal but I don’t have the heart. We have a dentist appointment in a few weeks, last time the dentist told us we need to think about letting blue blue go. That was six months ago and since that conversation Jack has only held on tighter to blue blue and made him more crunchy. What’s a mom to do with a special Blue? I told Jack and Fiona last night I would take a picture of their blues and put them in a special box. They both grabbed their blues along with many other stuffies and said, “Don’t give them away, we want them”. My children will be the forty something year olds with their favorite, deteriorated, blues in their adult beds, or hidden in their bedside table. Who knows what conversations go on between them and their blues? Late at night, early in the morning. They are their best friends. What can a mother do?
I wish I had my child hood favorite stuffy. I had many stuffed animals I kept through the years but they all got moldy in leaky rooms. I threw them all away. I can still smell the mustiness of my old things in my memory. In the darkness of this morning I can feel the mustiness of myself. The insomniac. Every year, between the last of October and the first of November I live through 4:00AM wake ups. It leaves me dark space to remember things. The quiet space where everyone is sleeping but me. When I was a little girl I thought there was someone outside my window during these pre-dawn moments. I was scared, until the sun started to cast light onto the dewy ground outside. I opened the back door and quietly stepped outside to investigate around my window, were there any foot prints? I moved on to look for animal prints, then any interesting changes in the trees, or the dirt, or the old wood the house was built with. I looked at my toy horses in the dirt, did they move since yesterday? No, probably not. My hand grabs the damp plastic body of my favorite Breyer Buckskin mare, moves her through the dirt and cold wet grass gets my pajamas all wet, my feet all dirty. I play until I think it’s safe to go back in the house, until I know my mom is probably awake and I’m not going to disturb her morning slumber.
This morning the sun is taking a long time to come up. My whole house sleeps. Quietly I write, drink my coffee and eat my toast. I am the early riser. It leaves me today with a soreness and thirst, a slight fatigue. Everyone else in this house will be well rested and full of energy. I will plug along, hopefully I will not disappoint my family with lack of expendable energy, I hope they will understand.
The Sycamore Tree
There is a giant sycamore tree on my street. I can see it from my kitchen window. It was planted the year we moved into our house in a five-gallon bucket. Today it’s the tallest, widest, tree in our neighborhood. In the summer, it’s full of dark green leaves. In the fall, they turn to yellow then bright orange. Winter, magnificent bare branches are exposed where in the spring tiny yellow finches cover the tree. From my window in February the branches still look bare, but when I walk by close I can see tiny little leaves. So many things in my life have changed since that tree was planted. Eight years ago, when I was training for my first Olympic triathlon I would ride my bike up our steep hill until I saw the sycamore tree, sweaty, legs weak, tree still small. The year after that I did my first IVF transfer, followed by disappointments, sadness, infertility treatments. The next year, pregnant I relaxed watching the tree, then my first miscarriage I recovered, watching the sycamore tree. Its leaves reach up into the fog this morning, air cool, a crow in the distance cawing. Clanging of recycling being dropped into the big yellow trucks. Jack and Fiona are still sleeping. When Jack and Fiona were born I set up blankets on the deck where we could see the sycamore. They laid down, two chubby babies, so tiny, compared to the giant tree. My studio downstairs, waiting for me. There are no windows in my studio but I can still feel the presence of the tree. The first fall Jack and Fiona were alive as the sycamore tree started to change I felt like I was missing my cue. I wasn’t registered for any art classes, I wasn’t starting any new programs like I had every year of my adult life. I was a new mom, the tree reminded me of the time passing, fall into winter into spring. Jack and Fiona were growing, the first several months were difficult. I needed my studio, I needed my creativity to grow like the tree. I started to get worn down after nights of constant feedings and diaper changes. I was missing my classes, my painting. I didn’t know how much I was changing and growing, or how much the experience of motherhood would affect my studio time.
The lifespan of Plantanus Occidentalis, the American Sycamore tree is more than 200 years. That tree will be there long after we are gone. I think about that, our short time here. I first started back in my studio after the babies were six months old, it felt like a long time had passed. I started getting very depressed. At first, I tried to get large chunks of time in my studio, like I was used to from my life before becoming a parent. It was difficult to get much time, I was frustrated. It took me several months to develop a new technique that worked. I learned that even if I only had an hour or thirty minutes it was worth it. I started working on my naptime notebooks and paintings. I focused on spontaneity. I left my critical mind out of the studio. I’ve grown as an artist this way, with these restrictions. I shed my leaves and grew back new ones, use what time I do have instead of thinking I don’t have enough time, inspired and grounded by the sycamore tree. Memories are imbedded in that tree, it is a keeper of the past and a beacon of years to come.
I’m sitting in a black and white skull dress in front of a grouping of black and white drawings; A powerful portrait in charcoal by William Kentridge hangs on the wall in front of me. I think to myself, don’t need to rush, I can spend as much time as I need to. I stand in front of white canvases listening to the collage of footsteps, how they echo from the other side of the wall, no faces, only sound. Jasper Johns paintings, every time I see them I look at them in a new light. I recognize a piece of myself, understanding things in these paintings I hadn’t understood before. I have moments of memory flash through my being, remembering sitting in front of these giant Clifford Stills, on my lunch break, or after work on my way to Bart. I spent so much time at MOMA I wonder how much influence these Abstract Expressionistic paintings had on my practice. The Rothko, Joan Mitchell, Jay Defeo, Guston, Lobell paintings I know. I feel like I’m with good old friends. I haven’t seen them in so long; I’ve only been once since they remodeled and that time was with kids. I miss my days in the MOMA, alone. Visiting galleries. I feel like I climbed back over a bridge to a part of myself deep down inside. Today I needed a break, a bath, studio time, writing time. So, Right when we got home today from preschool, I put the babies down for a nap. They fell asleep around 1:30PM. (An hour earlier than usual.) It was so hot and they were so tired and I needed what I needed. It worked out perfectly. Today in my studio I paint in shades of blues, inspired by our meditation on water this morning. I feel like hanging them up in my house to cool things off. My note book entries are beauties too, and I closed the cover of one more note book for my show. I love the quiet right now. I only hear the fridge, the air conditioner and fan. It’s dead hot and quiet outside. Jack and Fiona will be waking from their nap soon. Time to go and make snack!
Everything’s All set up. Shelves stocked with cerulean Blue, Anthro blue, green gold, burnt sienna, and more wonderful colors and colors and colors. New colors. Past year been keeping colors basic. Neutrals. Now deep. Deep in it. Officially getting ready for Solo show in the fall. Am excited. Got the supplies. Got the preparatory work started. Almost seven months to dial it in. As well as publish my book of Nap Time writings and paintings. The problem with my book is I want to just keep writing instead of editing and curating. I have to match the photos of my naptime paintings with the corresponding naptime writing that spans two years. Maybe it should be split up year two and year three. That’s a start at least. It feels like a daunting project! I had a wonderful day painting today. I made a supply run this morning, that is a help. I’ve been having vivid, intense dreams and feeling a sense of needing to put self-preservation first. Don’t take any chances, I think. I grab a long stick on the ground as I’m hiking this morning; A trail up high overlooking San Rafael. Its my first time this far up. It’s a spot the homeless camp out on. I walk across someone’s spot. A round circle of grass is flat. The sun is just peering over the eucalyptus trees. There’s a small, tidy bag of garbage. I see a cigarette box. There was a bad fire on the hillside a few years back, during the drought. “It’s the homeless camps” everyone shouted. I would set up camp here. If I were homeless. With some mean dogs to protect me. Billy’s getting old. Her leg isn’t quite healed. She’s feeling her recent injury. Her days. That’s why I Grab this stick. In my dream, I was scared. I ran through tall grass. I ran from a thief. I was scared. This would be a convenient spot for rape, I think. I remember how vulnerable I used to be when I was on the street as a young runaway. I had to line up with guys who would protect me. Even if I had to have sex with them to keep that protection. It was the lesser of two terribles. In my dream I was a teenager again. Sitting in the back of a pickup truck. Trying to figure how to stay alive. I brushed it out of my memory. Buried it down deep like they’re someone else’s stories. I picked up the stick this morning because the alternative, in the event that strange, somewhat in trusty worthy looking man was to come at me. I would have to run through the brambles in the wrong kind of pants, or strike him, hard. The other night I dreamt I was trying to protect myself with a garden tool but I couldn’t swing hard enough. The noise of the fan brings me back into my studio. I only have fifteen minutes left of my break. Tomorrow I am staying the night in the city. I’m going to the MOMA to see the Diebenkorn and Matisse show. It’s going to be the best night ever. I’m going to a Brazilian Steak house. I’m going to eat steak and drink wine.
Purple and pink. Burnt umber and grey. Who can tell what is real or dream? Last night in a dream I walked in tall grass. It scratched my legs. Today I walked through the same grass. Little white bugs flew up but never touched me. Fiona called them flies. “Mommy” she whined. “Flies are getting on my horsy”. I walk back through the flies and tall grass. A bit of asphalt on the ground catches my eye, I hadn’t noticed it the first time I passed this spot. The area intrigues me. Old remnants of structure, of road that used to be here. A strange brown bridge Jack, Fiona, and Valentina sit on. It’s old pieces of round, dark brown, wood, it almost looks like tree branches. It’s scratchy and splintery. It goes to nowhere over nothing, as if it were transplanted from a place it belonged. “Fiona, your horsey loves grass.” I say. She got a new play horse yesterday, she loves it. Memories flood me, being a kid, playing with my horses in the grass, pretending they were eating and I was going on a ride. I imagined what I did and did what I imagined. In nature. Under the sun, the dirt, red ants biting my butt, stepping on nails, getting tetanus shots. Bugs and beetles and pollywogs. Frogs and snakes and old barns, old trailer campers. Vacant rose greenhouses where the sun shines through the broken fiberglass roof and roses still bloom. We rode our ponies through, feeling what was, feeling what the space is for us. A vacation. A dream world with real spiders and scary stories. Purple and burnt umber. Pink and white. These are the colors I chose to paint with today. It was a good, productive day in my studio. Painted in my notebooks. Pulled apart tons of pages that have stuck together leaving scars. Leaving repairs to be done. Structure. But it went well. Realized I have a lot of pages to finish in my gargantuan notebook before my show this fall. I can do it. I take deep breaths throughout the day. I stay connected. I cocoon when I need to. I got what I needed today.
Drawing. Red. Rush. Heart Pounding. Newsprint. Red Watercolor Pen. Fast. Dishes piled up behind me. It’s beaten me. The endless piles of dishes and laundry. It’s different now. Big portions. Messy Messy all day long. Finding Mud Puddles. Ice Cream Cones. Lizards in the house. Spiders falling on the living room floor from Jacks shorts and pants and shoes and socks that I pick up in the back yard. He won’t stay dressed. He pees in the bushes. Picking up all day long. Always a pile in my arms. One arm dirty rags. One arm dirty dishes. One arm trash. One arm cup of water. A little precious hand to hold while crossing the street. A Blu Blu. A Tiny. We have a conversation; Jack, Fiona, Me. “The dentist says you can’t chew on your Blu Blu Jack, and you can’t suck your thumb anymore Fiona”. I say. “But we Love our Blu Blus and Tinys.” Jack says. Fiona puts her head down. She’s so distraught, disbelief. “I Know! How can it be? I Love Blu Blu and Tiny too. I’m upset too. I totally understand how you feel too. I like special things. Things I hold and cherish and can’t let go of.” I say. I wonder should I consult a psychologist? I don’t know how to do this. How can I take away these creatures, these special toys? Toys that have been with them since they were born. They attached to Blu Blu and Tiny right away. They were my saving grace when Jack and Fiona were babies. They call them transition pieces in the child rearing books. Now I’ve probably made them even more important with my chat in the car today, now they know how much I am attached to Blu Blu and Tiny. What are we gonna do? Blu Blu and Tiny are sentimental and nostalgic. I will miss them so much. I almost feel depressed about it.
They took a nap today. I’m so glad, they needed the rest and I needed a break. I made myself not clean. At first I didn’t know what I would do, feeling the way I do. I get out a pad of newsprint and box of pens. I turn on my computer. I start to doodle, then draw, draw rapidly and freely. I write. Now my time is coming to an end. Jack and Fiona will be up soon. My husband will be home. I need to do a list of things. I don’t feel like it though. I feel like just sitting and doing nothing for the rest of the night. Then just going to bed.
I pull off a book from the shelf in my studio, looking for something to use in my new notebook project. It’s an old Sunset Vegetable Gardening book. At first I want to use it for collage. I flip through and on the last page there is a sketch and a list of winter vegetables to plant: beets, brussel sprouts, carrots, lettuce, and spinach. I recognize the hand writing, it’s my mom’s. I can’t use this. I think about the garden in “Jennifer’s Walk”, a book from my childhood I read to Jack and Fiona. The garden in “Jennifers Walk” always reminds me of the garden my mom planted in our back yard. Now I am looking at a sketch of her vegetable plot, the one imbedded in my memories. I remember walking outside with her, “Jenny, a rabbit ate my carrots”. I imagine a white rabbit. Every time I read Jack and Fiona “Jennifer’s walk” I think of the white rabbit. I am reminded of my mom, my life as a child. My body yearns to be that little girl, to feel that way. The way my body felt today when I opened the page and saw my mom’s writing. I take the books into Jack and Fiona’s room when they wake from their nap; “Vegetable Garden” and “Woodland Animals” another one of my childhood favorites. I tell them the story of the books, they watch me in earnest. Fiona doesn’t have her hearing aids on yet, but Jack hears every word. He doesn’t interrupt, he processes. I flip the pages, he sees a picture of a turtle, “I don’t like turtles, they bite” he says. I look at him and giggle, he smiles.