Pure Nostalgia and a Weird Convergence

Seeing the paint-by-number ‘artworks’ decorating Hot Plate, a neighborhood breakfast place, plunged me into nostalgia.

At 10, nothing was better than making art that looked ‘real’ or perhaps I should say, ‘recognizable.’ Horses fascinated me and I labored at drawing them, using my horse statue for reference. One birthday, I received a paint-by-numbers kit for a horse portrait. Dip the cheap brush into the dime-sized plastic pots of paint, dab it in the blue-outlined shapes and voilà—my horse looked like the one shown on the box! Success!

A weird convergence.

Until my husband read the historical note in Hot Plate’s gallery, I’d never known that the Craft Master Corp., which made the paint-by-number kits, was headquartered in Toledo, my hometown. At first I thought, “That figures,” then I reminded myself that Toledo is also home to the Toledo Museum of Art, at the other end of the art world spectrum.

While crunching home fries and laughing at the paintings of questionable landscapes, sad clowns, and plucky dogs, I marveled at the paint-by-numbers concept. Someone had to curate images, analyze and isolate the placement of highlights and shadows, and choose the appropriate colors. Today, that function can easily be done in a graphics program, but in the 1960s that wasn’t the case.

The appeal of paint-by-number kits (popular in the 1950s and 1960s) and Bob Ross’ PBS show, “The Joy of Painting”(mid-1980s to mid-1990s, now immortalized on YouTube and in popular culture) is the idea that ordinary people with little or no artistic training can have an outlet for their creative impulses and paint something they’ll be pleased with.

On the paint-by-numbers box was the slogan, “Every man a Rembrandt!” We l l l, not exactly. But for my 10-year-old self, there was a real pleasure in making a painting that turned out.

Advertisements

Sharing the Load

Canadian wildfires more than a thousand miles away filled Wisconsin’s northern skies with haze. Following another warm summer day slightly diminished by the loss of blue heavens and the company of pesky mosquitos, helping a neighbor harvest their lavender field made a small part of the world all okay. At eight in the evening, thanks to Canadian smoke particulates, the July sun appeared a gentle gold surrounded by a flaming ring. With humidity and heat lifting, the air felt just right to stay outside

She knelt next to the plants, cutting the flowered sprigs with a curved knife. I gathered handfuls, wound the end with a rubber band, then handed each to her husband to trim and load for moving. Their collies laid between the rows, noses resting on paws. A hawk screeched above as it circled the field. We talked about nothing much scattered with deeply important stuff.

We have other jobs that claimed the day, but like all plants lavender has a time to be harvested. They had already completed hours in the field and hung hundreds of bouquets in the barn to partially dry. In a few days the lavender would fill a roadside cart for customers. Sharing the work, an hour went by quickly. Mosquitos called an end to our time.

Some kind of magic happens when friends share the work of their days. Weeding each other’s gardens, making a meal, washing dishes together, sanding another’s wood project, painting a room, harvesting lavender. Formality slips away. The need to create conversation slips into comfortable talk. We move in each other’s space naturally, slipping into the dance steps of our real lives without practice. That’s where memories are made.

po5suB6RT2ueQjZaTMEn4Q

Lucky 7 — Celebrating the WordSisters’ 7th Anniversary

In 2012, when Elizabeth and I launched WordSisters, we weren’t sure where this adventure would take us or if we could keep up the discipline (and pleasure) of blogging regularly. But here we are—still blogging!

Through the years, more sisters in writing joined us: Cynthia, Brenda, Jill, and Jean. We’ve made friends and added followers from all over the U.S. and the world.

I believe one of our strengths is the variety of voices, styles, and subject matter each of us brings. In that spirit, here is a selection of popular posts:

On Losing My Ambition (Open Letter to 35-Year-Old Hiring Managers) I made choices that supported the life I wanted; my decisions did not advance a traditional career path.

Until It Becomes Personal  Until it becomes personal it is somewhere else, someplace else, somebody’s else’ kid.

I’m (Not) Sorry I have set a big goal for myself: to stop saying “I’m sorry.”

Time Runs Out We hadn’t seen each other for a couple of months when he had shared with us that he experienced a couple of mysterious health incidents.

No Merit Badge for This “What would you do if there was a fight in the food court?”

God Bless Middle-aged Daughters We’re the sensible, competent women who make it all happen.

Opposing Thumbs As I sat in Miss Bloom’s typing class, I never thought that one day I’d be typing primarily with my thumbs.

Comfortable on Any Turf In memory of Lisa, whose writing group—Ellen, Elizabeth, Rose, Jill, Brenda, and I—were WordSisters well before Ellen and Elizabeth began this blog.

Thank you for being our readers over the years. You’re the reason we’re here.

 

How A Bullet Journal Helps Ease My Anxiety

I started keeping a (modified) bullet journal in January 2017, and I’ve recorded almost every day since. Not that I’ve written every day, but I’ve almost always gone back and recreated days I miss.

My journal is more diary than journal, recording events, how I’ve slept, what we ate, where we’ve traveled, things to do. I’ve occasionally written longer forms (this post started as handwritten pages in my bullet journal), but not often.

Lately, I’ve discovered that my notebook contributes greatly to managing my anxiety. On a recent Saturday I was feeling anxious and blue, more than I had in a while. It had been an emotional week. I’d seen my Uncle Don for the first time in years. I’d visited my 90-year-old mother in Michigan and found it difficult to leave her to return home. My husband’s sister was in the hospital with a life-threatening health crisis.

With all of the travel and activity, I hadn’t written in my journal. Sunday morning I made time to catch up on my entries for the week. As I wrote, I could feel the anxiety melting away. Nothing had changed, but the act of documenting my days seemed to be the panacea for my disquiet.

journal with micron penI realized that writing down these events ensures that I’ll have a record of them, that I won’t forget. But my journal also is a container for the challenging events in my life. I can close my journal, snap the elastic band around the cover and my emotions are safe, caught within the margins.

I spend a fair amount of time going back and reading what I’ve written in my notebook. Although mostly mundane, these entries serve a valuable purpose. They fill the gaps in my memory. They remind me of all of the wonderful people I have in my life. They show me that I’m resilient and can make it through any trials life throws me.

Unlike other journals I’ve kept, my bullet journal provides structure and order, two things I crave in my life. I often joke that I have “control issues.” But it’s not really a joke. I need to feel that I can have some control or influence over everything in my life. When I don’t, I get anxious. In a small way my bullet journal gives me that control. If I can put the words on paper, I can get them out of the endless worry loop playing in my head. I know I can always go back to my journal if I need to.

Another thing I love about my bullet journal is that there are no rules. (That seems a little contradictory to the previous paragraph, doesn’t it?) I can use it however I want. I control the contents. (Ah, there it is.) I can put a calendar on a page if I want one there, I’m not confined to the page with the pre-imposed date.

I’ve always loved calendars, but I can’t even count how many planners/diaries I’ve abandoned in my life because I’ve missed days or weeks and can’t tolerate the taunting of all those blank pages. This notebook is the perfect solution. Every page is full of ideas, events, thoughts, emotions, and yes, a calendar if I want one.

My favorite pages in my notebook are probably my version of the Calendex. I create small calendars across the top of the page using the grid, with a blank column beneath. Throughout the month I document the highlights (dinners out, parties, major purchases or repairs, writing groups attended and missed). At a glance I can recreate a week or month. I can then go to the date in my journal for the details.

Calendex

(Note for BUJO purists: I don’t use my Calendex for future planning. Eddy Hope explains how he created this concept in case you’re curious.)

I’ve learned that I prefer a “dot” notebook with a light grid on the page (Luechtturm1917 is my current favorite brand). I keep a ruler in my notebook and use my favorite pens (Micron-black) to draw lines to section off the page and create calendars and lists. (Lists! How I love a good list.) But I always write in pencil, I like to be able to make changes.

Recently I’ve decided that I want my journal to be more than just an accounting of days. So I’ve started adding sections periodically for “mood” and “observations.” I’m trying to be a little more thoughtful each day and use my notebook for inspiration and creativity. I usually journal early in the morning, when the house is quiet and I’m calm. I realize that it’s probably this time that I gift myself for quiet reflection that contributes most to my emotional state.

My bullet journal is the talisman that allows me to bring together the things that matter most to me – creativity, structure, order, inspiration – to live together in one place. The blank pages aren’t daunting. They’re beautiful and calm, waiting for me to use them.

 

The Real Reward

I help teach English to adult immigrants. Recently, the teacher I work with asked what kind of gift card I’d prefer as a thank you gift for volunteering. I didn’t want to make a fuss—I know the gift card is well-intentioned—so I chose one. But the truthful answer was that I didn’t want a reward.

What’s weird is that if I were a volunteer coordinator, I would think it was very important to acknowledge and thank volunteers. Finding a suitable way to please a disparate group would be hard. I would probably land on gift cards, too. I’m not criticizing the gift options or the school’s impulse to thank me.

I think my discomfort has more to do with how I was raised. My parents set an example with their many volunteer activities—they did far more than I ever do. Their outlook was that you’re supposed to pitch in and help. It’s just what you do.

Another value that my parents conveyed was that it’s even better if you donate your time or money without any public acknowledgement. For years, they were secret angel donors for the parish grade school and the church choir. If kids didn’t have money for supplies or a field trip, or if the choir needed more funds for a tour, the principal and the choir director knew my parents would cover it. Hardly anybody knew my parents did this. My father mentioned it to me once, and the scope of their contributions only came to light when they died.

What I had trouble putting into words when asked about the gift card is that volunteering is as much about my needs as it is about theirs. The world at large can be dismissive of people who are 60 and beyond—assuming that we’re clueless, set in our ways, etc., etc. Volunteering is a way of reminding myself that I’m knowledgeable and have something valuable to contribute. I feel seen, useful, and appreciated. That’s what makes volunteering worthwhile.

I don’t think I deserve a medal (or a gift card) for putting in a few spare hours a week. Corny as it sounds, acknowledgement comes every week in the form of students who make a point to thank me at the end of class. Also gratifying are the students who return after completing the class to share their excitement about landing a better job—one requiring good English skills. Plus, the teacher often asks my opinion about her proposed lesson plans and always thanks me for coming. That’s good. That’s plenty.