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After the Storm. Watercolor on paper

Living on a small island for part of every year leads an artist to think about ways to use local and natural resources, rather than trying to purchase and import all our art supplies. It has become even more imperative now that our island has endured a terrible hurricane. We wish to do no more harm and perhaps even in the process, replenish available natural resources.

We all are thinking about solar energy. Most of us don’t want to replicate the energy uses of the mainland onto our fragile island. In addition, many of us are using these moments of reconstruction to think of ways to do our arts and craft more naturally, using locally available materials. Must we always import supplies?

What does this island have that we might use as a natural resource for our crafting and art work? Can we take it, use it for art and then have it some day return to the soil without causing any more damage to this exquisite and ephemeral island?

Poised to Sail. Water color on driftwood taken from the beach

Cement Art

Plant potter, made out of cement

How much do I love cement? Let me count the ways.

First, it is readily available and not terribly expensive. We can find it in hardware stores and often have it sitting available in bags in our garages and sheds.

Second, it is easy to mold. Pour wet cement into a small prepared mold and in a matter of a few minutes, it is hardened. This has both upsides and down sides. It does not pay to be indecisive or not yet have your mold ready when you are about to pour the cement. Molds must be planned well ahead of time.

Third, when it dries it is unbreakable. What can I say? Cement is hard!

Fourth, once hardened, it provides a smooth surface for painting. Shown in the photo, as an illustrative example, is a cement plant pot that I painted with a small brush using acrylic and permanent ink.

Fifth….is the unknown asset yet to be discovered when crafting with it. Which is why I am writing this blog. I think this would make a great project for our little island art group to work on together.

Carving My Own Spoon

Recently, I took a piece of crudely chopped maple wood and carved out a spoon that is now a happy member of my kitchen wooden spoon collection. It is the one and only spoon that I have ever personally carved out of wood.

Newly carved spoon hanging out with older kitchen spoons

I learned how to do this when I took an introductory class, a Wood Spoon Carving Workshop taught by Emilie Rigby at Assembly PDX in Portland, Oregon.

Rough wood

Having carved my first spoon under Emilie’s auspices, I now imagine numerous ways to use a block of wood and a carving knife for all kinds of projects, including carving more spoons.

Tools

Base on this introductory workshop, I have learned a few things about wood carving.

First, carving provides excitement and danger. One must be brave to use knives this way. We are warned about the many possible ways to injure ourselves if we do not use our carving knives carefully. We practice holding the knife so that fingers are out of the way. We learn to stay clear of our partners and to properly sheath knives when not in use. We wear a protective glove on the hand holding the wood block. At first I carve, holding my breath, hoping the knife makes it to the base of the wood without hitting anything other than the wood in front of us. As I gain some experience, I breathe more normally.

The second thing that I learned is that the process of carving is like a form of meditation. The slow movement across the wood, the emergence of the spoon out of the wood, has a sort of ephemeral quality about it.

Third, wood is a flexible and beautiful medium to work in. It has a lot of character that emerges as you carve.

Beyond that, I am too much of a beginner to say much more.

However, I did purchase my first hook knife which is used for hollowing out spoons and for many other things, so clearly I do believe that there is a future for me in wood carving.

Hook Knife for working on curves

Below, is an introductory video of spoon carving, for those who might be interested to try it.

We had an afternoon to share, my granddaughter and I. She said, “Grandma, how about art?” I said, “Sure.”

We gathered up some watercolor paper that is cut for making cards, brought out our brushes, inks and acrylics. We covered my kitchen table with an old plastic shower curtain that I use to protect my good table. We grabbed an empty and cleaned up peanut butter jar to use for water, and started to work.

She used some shells and a sand dollar we had picked up at the ocean for her inspiration. I looked out our kitchen window at all the angles. She decided to play with the starfish and then shifted the shapes and began to ink them in. I played with lines and angles, thinking about some of the wonderful drawings my artistic neighbors did when in the Abacos as they drew lovely, simple, angular paintings of island homes.

At some point, we spilled the water and also knocked over the blue ink. But it mopped up easily, given the plastic shower curtain we had used as protection. We cleaned up the mess and kept right on painting.

Several hours later, we took turns walking into in the other room and holding up the other person’s painting for them to see, more objectively.

We got hungry, ate lunch together and talked.

It was a perfect day.

The Author as a Child

It started out as an attempt to write my life story and has instead become a fictional novel about the end of the world. Writing my memoirs has turned out to be a journey, first in truth telling, then into fiction, and finally into the unknown.

Writing my memoirs seemed like a simple and rewarding task. I believed that I had the proper writing skills although it was not really the same kind of writing to which I was accustomed. Up to this point, my published writings were scientific, written with objectivity and largely data-driven. The subjects in my studies were anonymous; my memoirs would be deeply personal. I was writing about my family and me, in the first person, in a highly subjective manner.

Yes, I figured it wouldn’t be that hard to write my memoirs. It was after all, it is still a writing assignment. In fact, it sounded pretty simple and far less data-driven than what I usually did. It sounded like fun, an adventure of sorts. It seemed like just the type of thing I wanted to do to celebrate my retirement. I was looking forward to being free of objective methodology, constricting datasets and footnotes, and to write more freely.

A memoir seemed in order. But in fact, the struggle to put down my life story on paper has continued to plague me for a number of years. In the process, I have learned to blog, write poems, tell stories, make illustrations, sketch doodles and work in other art forms such as watercolor and oils , even basket weaving. But my memoirs are still not yet fully written.

I continue to work on them, from time to time, and will probably continue to work on them for as long as I can, primarily because it is too enjoyable and rewarding to ever stop writing them.

When I first started writing my memoirs I had just retired from decades of research and travel with most of my career spent working on survey research in the social and economic and environmental sciences. While doing so, I wrote and published on a regular basis.

Working in international statistics for the United Nations was very exciting. I traveled to numerous countries in many regions of the world while collaborating with the statistical offices of governments. In the process, I took on tasks and followed trails that few have ever taken. My work in demography and statistics was exciting, personally rewarding and humbling. There was so much to do, and so little time. Although my readers were highly specialized and my audience limited, I loved working with these incredibly interesting teams of statisticians on problems of survey research methods and was deeply engaged in the work. Those decades of working and traveling in numerous countries, while married to a great guy and together bringing up three wonderful children, could not have been more complicated or rewarding..

Upon retiring from the UN, I considered my next steps. Without knowing what to do for certain, I decided to start looking at the world from a completely different perspective. I decided not to take an emeritus role in my field, but to reach out to new subjects instead, to find a different voice.

One thing I had wanted to do since I was a young woman, was more personal writing. At my retirement party, my now adult children gave me a book on how to write a memoir, and a blank book to go with it. They were great gifts, encouraging me to start writing about some of the many things I had experienced over the years.

I started writing my thoughts about my childhood, only to discover that the deeply personal nature of the task prohibited me from going forward and posting it up for others to read. I thought about all the other people, mainly family and friends, who might be affected by my making their lives public along with mine, and decided to take another approach.

I started over, this time by writing fiction. I decided that precision of history was not what I wanted to write. Rather, observations about life were becoming more important than complete objectivity in telling my personal story. It made more sense to let fictional characters do the talking.

I am finding writing to be so powerful of a tool when using fictional characters, where one may explore new areas and experiences. Moving to fiction actually frees me up to say what I want more readily.

Writing in fiction leads me into thinking about so many things while pondering directions to take. For example, should the story be written from the perspective of one person? Or should I let a multitude of characters speak for themselves? How would this affect the story?

Why am I writing this fictional book?

I am still trying to address that question. Do my ideas flow, is my text clear? Are my main characters evolving, is the plot thickening?

About that plot.

My first fictional book has stubbornly stayed on telling my main character’s story about her survival after an apocalyptic event. Her story reverts back to her childhood through her thoughts about the times when she begins to realize that numerous species of flora and fauna are disappearing, and the destruction of clean waters and air are happening, right in front of her eyes.

Now, back to the plot.

What is the plot, if my main character is the last person on earth? How complicated can the story get? Does this mean that there is no plot, but futility?

Oh yes, I do have a plot. I’m still struggling with it, but think that a book focusing on these last days of human existence on the planet earth remains a worthy task. My main character is free to say what she wants. After all, it appears that most others are already gone, disappearing in the extinction process. There is no one is left to be hurt or insulted.

Perhaps it is because my main character is telling her story, I am free to listen to her and to see the world through her eyes in all its beauty and complexity. Through her actions, I experience the shock and fragility of being an almost extinct animal.

Through my main character’s wonderful descriptions of loss, a love of life and all its abundance emerges. Through her descriptions of the remaining environment as it begins to evolve into some sort of healing process, and her joy of discovering the beauty of what remains, leaves me hopeful for life on the planet, even if humans are no longer a part of it.

My main character’s ability to weave her own memoirs into the telling of her story, brings me freedom, as a writer, to consider the joys, tragedies and hilarity of my own life.

Plot, characters, text, wording, illustration. I love the potential of them all and hope for them to stay with me on this journey to the end of human existence on our planet, plainly seen through the eyes of my fictitious characters.

You may be wondering at this point, what does this have to do with writing memoirs?

The old adage, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” rings true. I am not yet ready to write the last chapter of my memoirs, nor can I. Because I am still here, alive and changing.

Fiction is offering me many more possibilities to express my thoughts, as long as there are some people alive to read it. Without interested readers, what will remain will be simply small etches in the sands of time.

It is my hope that we people will continue to exist in some sort of form, for hundreds of thousands of years into the future. Perhaps we won’t, given the slippery slope we are now on.

But I think it is worth wondering what the world would be like if we were almost extinct, if we became as rare as some other species have recently become.

In the story that I am writing, I focus on the days when most everybody disappears on earth, but for a few struggling characters. Fiction offers this opportunity.

Then I ask, what if I actually knew this one character intimately and could write about her while she and her partner confront the end of human existence on the planet earth?

What would I learn from telling her story? I am about to find out.

Abaco

Blue seas and water waves

erased by symmetry

affirmed by none.

Smooth and deliberate.

A powerful bird glides by

proud of the direction it has taken.

Abaco nowhere, everywhere

Glob Throwing

Slimy colorful gobs, paid for by advertising, innocent and fresh, newly designed but not really.

Crystallized into short, sharp syllables, oh I like that one, let me put it up.

Slung in the face of others, posted on line for all to read.

The colorful emotive gob smears sticky smush onto the insulted receiver pushing shades of anger.

Retaliation. New cheap gobs thrown back, no care in time spent writing short angry syllables. No need to.

Ready to eat, prepared insults. Modern food, brought to your house through an internet box. Tantelized with sugar, dangerous chemicals carefully massaged into symbolic globs, meaningfully shaped to look like good food, nourishing nothing.

Gobs of words paid for by ads. Supported by spending money aimed to throw more gobs. Each gob thrown earns a dollar for somebody.

Weak legs and arms, too tired to prepare any independent thoughts.

Reach for another already prepared, readily available gob and take aim.