All original images and text are copyright 2008-2021 Liz Sweibel

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

I drafted the paragraphs below weeks ago, and found I only had to make minor adjustments.

I thought I had something new to say, but rereading the last two posts I see I already said most of it.  If anything has changed, it's my growing detachment from art in a gallery space.  Or maybe art in any location that highlights the gulf between those who participate and those who don't.

My teaching feels more pressing, more gratifying, more of a contribution.  Visibility is a (and maybe the) key word here, and links the teaching I'm drawn to with the art I (might) make (and where it might go or what it might do and for whom).  Impact.

It is also about students' visibility in a brutally tough time. The compassion I can show those who are suffering is keeping me connected to the world.

The external world and the internal me have become cross-currents, each directing me toward a certain kind of work.  It's a shift from the private toward the public.  It's my lesser interest in studio work (that I'm not compelled to make and no one may ever see) and my greater interest in taking photos.  The immediacy of that is gratifying, both in making each picture and in sending it into the world.

I see people crumbling, even as we now have reason to be hopeful.  Exhaustion seems embedded in me.

Follow-up July 28:  Same

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Yesterday I inflated enough by 4.30 to grocery shop. The sun was out briefly and the spring-ish cold felt good. I also dropped a shirt at my dry cleaner, which I visit maybe twice a year. (I don't dry clean and I don't iron.)  I walked in and felt like I was the owner's long-lost friend; I got and returned a very large and gleeful greeting, realizing that my appearance after a year-plus must be a sign of life and normalcy we all desperately need.  I'm certainly not a revenue stream.  She is not a very good seamstress but I have a coat I love that needs relining and will offer the work to her anyway.  An Asian-owned, local business trumps a stranger no matter how skilled.

Throughout this year, my pattern has been one to two crashes a week:  days where I'm energetically immobilized and sleep as much as possible.  (I can sleep a lot.)  While yesterday's near-paralysis was familiar, I realized late in the day that I had not had a crash in well over a week.  That is a stretch of more productive time to be grateful for, for schoolwork anyway.

Maybe there is a creative logic to my low interest in my studio work - but my dismissal of new ways to work is self-blockage.  I came to value the photo/IG work after several months, and am now pursuing it as much as letting it find me.  But I miss working with my hands in the studio, and am not energized by the work underway on my tables and walls. This WIP has come along a bit since this photo (three finished columns and a fourth started), but I can't summon interest in continuing.

And that's fine ... I always circle back ... but in the meantime I'm wanting something fresh to focus me.  Actually, to compel me.  Am I available to be compelled toward anything?

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Covid Lockdown

It's been almost a year since I wrote here; I just changed the copyright date from 2018 to 2021.  I reread a little, including Anne Truitt's words on the aging body.  Little has changed.  My energy comes but mostly goes; ideas form but motivation doesn't form behind them.  I have to convince myself there is a point to doing much of anything.  I am keeping up with schoolwork, for practical but also personal reasons:  it makes me visible in the world and has an impact on people I care about.

But I don't care much about myself, privately.  I can barely sustain any worthwhile activity, and that's if I can start at all - whether it's to work in the studio or to read something more enriching than the news or to reach out for conversation.  I sleep a lot, self-medicate more than I like, and feel numb and blank.  The impulse to write here (as opposed to one of my several journals) has actually stuck for a couple of days, and I get it:  it is available to others even if no one sees it.  And its public-ness binds me to being clear and complete in ways I can sidestep in private.  My thinking is under more pressure to resolve to something, and words are the right material.

Many of the artists in my community find solace in their work, or a new sense of purpose.  I feel a futility.  I can understand that intellectually, but it leaves me without a way to summon or focus my creative work.  Again this makes practical sense, but it overlaps with the loss of energy related to aging, and I feel defeated and worried that I will ever feel like myself again.

Picture-taking and Instagram have become my primary studio practice - a way to process the shocks of the last year, to be out of the house with a sense of purpose, and to make work that is immediately visible to the world.  When I realized this I was relieved not to be as dead-in-the-water as I felt, but I still fault myself for not making "real" work in the studio.  I should get off my own back and not sabotage a creative stream that has been working.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Sad Spring

This is the saddest spring I can remember.  I take a walk every couple of days, and the magnolias, forsythia, daffodils, cherry and apple blossoms that have always brought a kind of life-excitement are blanketed by an all-eclipsing worry.  I feel wrong, at odds with spring.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020


As of yesterday, all NYC schools are closed as we try to stop the spread of the coronavirus.  A walk around my neighborhood was quiet.  I can't go too far as my ankle is still healing from the break, but it feels good to breathe air and see first signs of spring.  The empty playground at PS 152 is another matter.

I read back a little ways before starting this post, and much is the same, actually, yet intensified by more and greater horror from this administration. Now much of the country is self-isolating, waiting for the spike in COVID-19 cases that weeks of wasted time and ineptitude have made inevitable.  I have no symptoms, and have been careful since late February.  Last night I dreamed I had to go to the college, where a full audience was packed into the faculty area and overflowing into the office spaces.  I wove my way through, growling What about social distance?  Tim and I shook hands then realized we shouldn't have.  Cindy from second grade was there.  I packed up to leave, furious, then got very very lost looking for the subway in a treacherous area below TriBeCa, staved off an attempted mugging, and briefly lost my puppy.  That pretty much sums up the jumble in me.

I voluntarily spend half of each week as I will now spend weeks on end:  in my apartment, working with students and colleagues online, working in the studio. I'm very fortunate in this catastrophe.  Being 62 doesn't work in my favor, but my job and income are secure, I have no underlying physical problems, and I have full control over my environment and activities.

My mother would be 89 today.

I have new work in the studio, still building on the Japan series begun in 2012.

Thread, velum; 8 x 8"

An unpublished draft from June 21, 2018

The death spiral of our country is disorienting to my every layer and aspect.  I feel this pressure on me toward numbness, paralysis - psychological and physical.  It's makes shutting down a real risk. 

I'm opting out of more events than usual.  As I write, the opening party for Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself is under way at the Cigar Factory in Long Island City.  I had every intention of going; hadn't even questioned going.

Then the day just rolls itself into a ball.  My anxiety about all the people and the travel itself tip the scale.  For the first time, I'm beginning to feel my location is a disadvantage if I want to go out at night; so does the thought of travel.  I experienced my version of Anne Truitt's panic while driving alone to the Cumberland Gap (from Turn, previous post).  Mine was driving alone to Hartfort, Conn, to install Abductions and Reconstructions at Real Art Ways.

A long way of saying I did not go.  To my own opening.  I know that's not good or smart or wise.  I'm missing events I do not want to miss, like Writing the Constitution at Odetta Gallery last Sunday.

The limits of my reach, inability to be more than helplessness, guilt, and rage are making normal life harder.  I'm spending a lot of time on MSNBC and FB, reading about the cruel chaos on the border, the efforts to help, the situation for the immigrant children especially.  Normal-life posts have become disorienting, like my innards shout What world are you living in?  Lots of people have pulled back from the news, and I get it.  I should, probably.  But this is a crisis beyond what we can imagine.  Looking away or down-playing it is becoming more dangerous.  We have a responsibility to know and help if we are against this debacle of an administration - this debacle of a human being.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

June 20 on June 21

I looked briefly back at this blog, and it seems I'm always reading Anne Truitt.  I just finished rereading Turn.  I picked the right time to reread it; Truitt is in her early sixties and grappling with the changes in her body and thinking.  The June 20 entry below describes my experience closely and was a relief to read. The date is even close to today's.

June 20, From Turn, Anne Truitt

I started working with the divider cards again.  It felt like a fresh chapter (paragraph might be more accurate).  This was a couple of days ago.  I had in mind baby swallows in the rafters of a shop ion the Nakasendo Way just a year ago.  (I can hear the birds at sunset in Brooklyn.  And a basketball bouncing.  The light is spectacular where I sit.)

I should add that I began researching a possible sabbatical for spring 2020 this week, including a possible return to Japan.  It is causing vertigo while feeling natural or inevitable.

Monday, June 4, 2018

I Think I'll Stay

I concluded, yesterday, that this blog couldn't continue, because it can't hold what I need to say. That I need a new platform ... Tumblr? ...  to underscore the difference.  What difference?  I just reread a long string of posts; nothing is so different other than I'm 61 now and all the anxieties I registered - about aging and the state of the country and world and making art - are a year more developed and, in certain ways, entrenched.

I began reading Anne Truitt's Turn, for comfort and inspiration, and saw our ages match.  She was 62 when she began this memoir, so facing some of the same existential pains and pleasures.  There has been a tightening since my sixty-first birthday.  Left unchecked, I am more fearful of getting hurt, whether on the subway or climbing a ladder at home.  I feel a more poignant despair.  I have an impulse to move, as if exurbia would protect me.  The passage below was like having Truitt name and expose my direction, and it left me ashamed - that I would collapse in the face of all the privileges I have to keep me upright.  That I would retreat under the guise of wanting to garden, move to Wassaic, and further isolate myself.

So it is summer, a year after Japan, and I'm struggling for traction, motivation, purpose.  While this writing is self-absorbed, my living is not.  I'm more outward-pointing than I have ever been, from my outrage at the amoral prick in the White House and his supporters to my street behavior to my commitment to students.  This shift has made the studio foreign again; my photographs seem more communicative.

I began drawing from my photos some months ago and can see that as a point of departure, and an arrival.  I should stay with this blog.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

My Bodega

My bodega is the Glenwood Deli, open 24 hours except when closed.  It is immaculate and run by nice, friendly men.  They know I am all about peanut butter m&ms.  (They were out of stock today.)

For the last few months, the bodega has hosted an older man who sits on a stool beside the freezer and monitors activity.  He wears sunglasses and a hat, and his accent suggests he is from the islands, maybe Jamaica.  He lives above the store (I'm told) and is in the bodega almost every time I visit. We fist-bump and agree it's a good day to be alive.  We make a big deal of my visit, along with the man usually on duty when I show up, and I love the few minutes I'm there.  It's the anti-urban-anonymity experience, for me.

Today, the man was celebratory.  He is always upbeat but he was off his stool.  He leaned into me and told me his birthday was Saturday and he had just moments ago learned from the city that he is being awarded an apartment.  So excited!

So excited, in fact, that he bought me the above m&ms.  I had already bought mine, so this was a pure burst of joy and generosity, from someone far less employed than I am.  A stranger.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Turning Over a New Blog Leaf for the New Year?

This blog might be the most underused tool in my social media kit.  Seven months have passed!  Each time I think to write here (at least weekly), I somehow sidestep or dismiss it as "not the best use of my time."  I'm undervaluing the effort it takes for me to put words here - and the edge that effort adds.  There is value in the work it takes me to articulate the private for the public - even if no one reads it.  So I'm declaring a new era for this blog.  Day one of era two.

I feel a tug to wrap up 2017 in some way, to find a few words to summarize a year that was terrifying, wondrous, productive, and deeply educational.  The revelations about people that this year's political and global climate has produced in me are jolting and tragic, and I'm questioning human nature from new angles.  Where to place trust?  How to live with these new fears, and reconcile that their very newness reflects my life of privilege?  The shock!  Never, never, never did it occur to me that the events of this year could happen in this country.  My age - sixty - helps explain that.  My first "world memory" is Kennedy's assassination; I was six.

The year forced me to examine myself as a social and political being.  While self-analysis is one of my favorite sports, it became urgent to try and acknowledge my biases, vulnerabilities, and fears with more courage.  Being an educator fed the urgency.  It also became clear that the sport itself itself is a privilege:  the resources that allow me to ponder my thinking, feeling, and actions are not available to most.

Equally - though very differently - impactful in 2017 was my visit to Japan.  The experience was more powerful than words (which is why I didn't write any then), and is still.  It has begun informing my artwork and that pleases me.  This morning, I stumbled on some photos from the trip and was so moved to revisit them.  My memories are vivid.  Also, I realized that I'm mourning the trip: I no longer have it to look forward to. It is done.  I also get sad when I think about it.

Untitled (After Japan #1), 2017


I'm starting in a strong place.  My winter break and the Excessive Frugality exhibit have left me fueled up in the studio.  This year I will engage more with the business end so that the work can get seen more.  I have some momentum and no excuse for not chasing it.  The first part of my semester is lighter than usual, and will allow more time for making and marketing.

The world climate is only worse.  The men (mostly) running this country are running it into the ground, destroying its place in the world and in people's lives.  Are these men conscious of the choices they are making or is their thinking so partial that they can only experience their own needs?  What kinds of mental cartwheels does one do to sacrifice the world their children will inherit to ... money?

Monday, May 29, 2017

No Words.

I write from Kyoto to report that this personal revolution will not be blogged; I told some people it might be.  Words are my currency from August to May.

My first impression upon deplaning in Tokyo was utter silence.  Yes, in the airport.  After the cacophony of JFK, it was glorious.  So while I walked down the JFK ramp weeping because I was afraid to leave (in a plane) and didn't feel well, I walked up the Haneda ramp teary from the silence.  It is such a relief to be free of the work of understanding other people and the need to make myself understood verbally.  I don't have to listen to anything, really; Japanese is like music.

This is a research expedition to reestablish my work's primacy.

This trip is about my eyes and their spotting-of-moments that are peculiarly mine.  I'm documenting most, and posting some to FB and Instagram.  It is beyond exciting.

Sunday, May 28, 2017


Leaving the plane in Tokyo, utter silence.  Occasional whispered instructions to watch my step on the moving sidewalks.  Signage in English as well, thank the stars.  A quiet wait for luggage, a prompt shuttle to my immaculate hotel, a tiny perfect room.

The flight:  Long.  Really long.  Fidgety.  Anxious.  However: two snacks and three meals, silverware (and chopsticks), complimentary drinks, and ongoing offerings:  an attendant walking backward holding a pot of coffee and a tray with cups for passengers to see.  A shift in power, a courtesy.  American noise must make the Japanese reel (invisibly and silently).  Dad flew back and forth during the Golden Age of flying: took hours longer, a risk of whiplash or worse from turbulence.

Saturday, May 20, 2017


I'm leaving for Japan in less than a week, and badly badly want the adventure to be a whole-body-and-mind-and-soul reset.  Something has to give.  I need the culture jolt to yank me out of the fog of world affairs and US politics I have been in for months.  I'm self-medicating with news, anxious, and relieved when some excitement pokes through the haze.

This place called "Japan" played a role in my family life when I was five or six or so, and is one basis for this trip.  In the early 1960s, Dad was doing business in Tokyo and traveling there with some regularity: enough for my mother to put her foot down eventually, given that I was the oldest of four by age six.  Her hands were more than full, and Dad would be away for two or three weeks at a time (as my five-year-old self remembers it).  (My nonstop flight to Japan is 14 hours; in the early 1960s those hours only got you to Paris or so.)

So a mound of bandanas, First Aid items, hiking clothes, and spare glasses is growing on my dresser: real evidence of a surreal moment.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Scale Shifts.

The Internet has opened life in countless ways, while closing it off in others and virtually ruining it with the 2016 election and all the meanness, selfishness, and ignorance made public during and since.  I have moments of wishing it had never opened.  I also see it - this blog and my Web site especially - as the site of the memoir I am unlikely otherwise to write.  It is a horrific time in the world, and I want to mark my tiny place in it in words and pictures.

We (humans) are at risk, and whatever good this country has been aiming for is being callously eclipsed or sabotaged by the cruel dysfunction of politicians and corporate overlords.  Famine, oppression, chemical weapons, terrorism ... The fear-fueled decisions - and some outright insanity - of the power-grabbers are hurtling the country and world to vicious, unimaginable (to me) new lows.  I was born in 1957.  The relative security I have assumed as normal is infinitely more fragile and ill-gotten than my younger self conceived, and now that self - my self - is stupidly astounded and ashamed at my unseen privilege.  I have learned much about Otherness in Facebook conversations.

From May Sarton's Journal of a Solitude, starting with a quote from Robert Coles (in a 1970 New Yorker article):  "'Not everyone can or will ... give his specific fears and desires a chance to be of universal significance.' To do this takes a curious combination of humility, excruciating honesty, and (there's the rub) a sense of destiny or of identity.  One must believe that private dilemmas are, if deeply examined, universal, and so, if expressed, have a human value beyond the private, and one must also believe in the vehicle for expressing them."

I wrote the post below almost a week ago, and this scale shift helps validate the attempt at introspection:

On Thursday evening I hurt someone I love; I was insensitive with my words.  I learned this when I got home, and felt my insides go liquid.  I don't recall my exact words; I was oblivious to their potential to insult.

I arrived at the gathering tired and still slightly irritated from the teaching week (and semester, and year), and was anxious to appear in better spirits than I felt.  It doesn't work very well; the anxiety is more of an obstacle - a danger, even - than a low mood.  Out of it comes my uneasiest behavior: spews of words.

My apology - sent that night - was accepted early the next morning, and my chest and shoulder muscles exhaled. Still I slept all day into the night, except for one errand and PBS from seven to nine.  My physical energy was consumed by the emotion, and the lethargy added worry that the emotion would lodge itself.  Today feels much better, and I hope I learned something.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Anticipatory Grief.

Leading up to Big Emotional Events, I'm full-on anxious and a tad obsessive; on FB, I described myself as "howling" in the days leading up to my sixtieth birthday.  I also knew that I would be back to (ab)normal on the actual date and thereafter, and I was and am. There is a history to this.

In 1975 my father had a massive heart attack; he was forty-six; I was a sophomore at the University of Florida.  We had gone to Crescent Beach for the day, my first college beach trip.  The phone was ringing when we got back to the dorm, and my mother told me to come home.  I don't know how I traveled from Gainesville to Miami Beach the next day; I do remember the evening before, sitting at friends' apartment, paralyzed and still and silent.

I also remember seeing Dad at Mt. Sinai the next day.  This bull of a man - the only reason he survived, I'm convinced - was tied to a thousand ICU machines but conscious.  We could only stay a minute.

Dad managed to stay alive for five years, slowly returning to a four-day workweek at his factory, Martin Wire Company.  My brother was diagnosed with dyslexia during this time, and the family was in enough upper-middle-class Jewish distress that we were referred to a psychiatrist, Warren Schlanger.  The therapy was prompted to support my brother, but he didn't engage; the rest of us clamored for airtime and eventually began some one-on-one relationships with the doctor, me included.

My mother was so touched to see Dr. Schlanger's name in the guest book at my father's memorial in 1980.  And she must have seen the doctor after the death, because she later told me that his perception was that my family began grieving Dad at the first heart attack.  Anticipatory grief.

This week I realized that my mental picture of Dr. Schlanger has merged with that of a psychiatrist I saw in the late 80s in Cambridge, Mass., Robert Okin, who I largely credit with saving my life by taking it (me) apart.

At 7.48 am today, I did a google search for Dr. Schlanger and he is eighty-two and in Palm Beach.  I need to think about that.

Thursday, March 30, 2017


I am sixty years old today.  It's 8.20 am as I begin writing - something I have been longing to do for awhile but unwilling to take the time for from something else, whether the priority of my studio, the obligations of my day job (endless grading and prepping), or my own tendency to slip in front of my own way and stop me.  Already today, I have wept for my parents, neither of whom lived to sixty, and lit two yahrzeit candles that now burn on one of my mother's beautiful plates that I usually save for asparagus.  I have read an essay by my dear friend Anne Pierson Wiese (published in the New England Review!) and - of course - her words spoke to me, to today, to my parents and history and love of objects.  I feel Anne's writing inhabiting this writing, and both are so lush with memory that it took a few seconds for me to realize that the birthday candles on my google home page are for me.

When I clicked, I was reminded that I share a birthday with Eric Clapton and gained a new connection:  it is Spiritual Baptist/Shouter Liberation Day.  I don't know what that is, but have decided not to find out so I can keep my amusement to myself.  I may have to shout at some point before midnight.

I have also attended to the mundane, like wrestling with Rosie and a baby wipe to clean her rear end.  She's very round and needs help.  I'm usually left bleeding, and today is no exception.

I planned to see the Whitney Biennial and visit select Chelsea galleries today, things I routinely miss.  But I changed my mind, opting to stay closer to myself in my sunny Brooklyn home, where I can allow this writing to be important enough, work in my studio, and read exactly what I want before celebrating with family.  (And grade the last three student outlines, also closer to myself than the Biennial.)

Aging is extraordinary. My thinking and feeling have slipped in ways I don't appreciate.  It's harder to allocate time, knowing my life is more than half done.  It has crystallized how hard I had to work to grow myself up in my 20s and 30s and even 40s - because of their deaths and the nature of their lives and gene pool - and that that effort eclipsed other kinds of growth.  Today, at sixty, my life is where I would have wished it at forty or forty-five.  But then I was married, graduating college (again), living in the white suburbs of Boston.  Somehow, I left at forty-six and rebuilt in NYC, where I started.

I live two blocks from an apartment my father lived in in the late 1930s and short distances from other Brooklyn homes my parents occupied as children and newlyweds.  I didn't know any of this until after I bought my apartment in 2008; my parents died before my questions arose.  As the keeper of the "family boxes" for my brothers and me, I found my mother's high school yearbook shortly after moving in.  Reading "Bedford Avenue" on the cover, I was stunned that my running route goes by James Madison High.  My father went to Erasmus (which I knew), and I live between the two.  This bird-like migration is a comfort; having been drawn home gives sense and meaning to a life that is both very rich and still in search-mode.

Turning sixty has occupied me for weeks now, and I didn't realize until this morning's tears and candle-lighting that I have left my parents behind, again.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Almost another year has passed since writing, and I just ordered Journal of a Solitude ... how interesting, inevitable, and agonizing to reread from a year ago and see that my questions and struggles are pretty much as I left them.

What is shifting - by forceful intention - is my attitude toward my instinct for solitude and meaning-making. It isn't a weakness or flaw or source of self-consciousness unless I do that to myself.  It is what grounds me and gives me a voice.

"Brain Pickings" has become an antidote to despair, or a vital inspiration to reshape despair into drive.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

How nice to be drawn back to this blog after so long.  Just watching myself choose where to put myself in writing - one of my journals, personal e-mail, Facebook, my Web site - is interesting.  Why am I choosing to give such access to myself today?  A question for our times: countering feelings of invisibility, inaudibility, irrelevance, impossibility.  And isn't it as good a way as any to reach out to the dead?

I problematize everything about myself.  Since when?  Oh, must be junior high, the source of all evil.  I recall a confidence and sense of belonging in elementary school that evaporated upon arrival in seventh grade; everything I knew and trusted about myself came into question in my pining to be "popular."  But since I had stopped liking myself, the effort (and it was gargantuan) was futile.  The story of adolescence.

But I never stopped problematizing myself, a habit surely formed during years of therapy.  My last therapist said she wasn't sure how much more she could help me; my awareness and insight weren't lacking, so perhaps she could just help me stop beating the crap out of myself.  She tried, and sometimes remembering our work together helps me to back off myself.

Recently, I've been self-critical for spending so much time alone at home (also my studio).  Should I make a bigger effort to socialize?  to go out?  I've always been a loner.  Even in elementary school, I had friends but often rode my bike to the Woodmere dock to "fish."  That meant sitting with my feet dangling with a fishing pole, unbaited; I would have been horrified to catch anything.  I appeared purposeful (if strange to the men in the bait shack, which I once or twice entered) but my actual purpose was to be alone.  I once brought a friend with me, tentatively, knowing it was risky, and that confirmed my intuition it wasn't something to be shared.  In trying to connect, I only felt exposed.

I made this pencil drawing in 1996, as an undergrad at MassArt trying to communicate myself to myself.  I'm en route to the dock, passing a willow tree I recall as being in front of Randy Ross's house.

So where is the problem?  There is a problem, but it's only about getting out and doing more, not the preference for solitude.  Winter break is coming (at last), and I'd like to see myself get to the Guggenheim for The Trauma of Painting: Alberti Bruni and to galleries.  What inhibits that I'll leave for another day.

Friday, February 20, 2015

I think of writing here almost daily, lately.  Four draft posts sit; the starts were so directionless I abandoned each.  I've been thinking about the places and ways I write, and I don't know where this blog fits, or if it does fit anymore.

I like writing in my notebooks, wcould I likands, so I can flip hysical act oback hether quick notes .  They're a jouhere are no revelatiornal in that they are not for otherI have a studio the public and forth notebook and a couple of floating e the pf writing. t in my hnotebooks.  s' eyes even as tns I'd woI like having irry about or something closer to paragraphs

Draft 5 stomped on and abandoned.

But I was here.

Monday, November 24, 2014

I just carried my parents' old wing chair from the foyer into the bedroom, which involves a couple of turns that I maneuvered in a new way; whatever the old way was was no longer a physical possibility for me.  I got the chair where I wanted, but realize that to think of it in terms of being out of shape or tired is to think of it as passing, changeable.  It isn’t.  That’s my experience of getting older, and of seeing myself start to live and perceive life from a new (old) perspective.

No one can prepare you for it, and I can’t prepare anyone.  Now I get it.

Sometimes when I try to impart a lesson I consider somewhat fresh and exciting to me, it may not be one my students are or should be ready for.  The likelihood, though, is they’ll nod then forget – as I did, until now – and no harm done.

Frank Bruni did an admirable job exploring life after 50 in a recent NY Times article.

A colleague in Israel sent me a beautiful image called "Winter Blossoms at Jordan Valley."


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Moving the studio home, my attitude has ranged from true excitement (at being able to grow things for my work, since I'm here to water) to disappointment that I'm "back" (oy, the judgment in that word) in this situation and anxiety about getting my work off the ground (interesting word choice; climb a sprout?).

The word "mindfulness" has become trite, but the concept and necessity are timeless.  I'm not meditating now ... can't generate interest in sitting.  Interest shouldn't be the deciding factor, of course.  I want the benefits but not the discomfort.  Sitting has to become habit (like running), and for that I have to decide to just do it for the weeks it takes habit to form.  Any negotiating of the decision changes it or requires me to muscle it back, so there can't be negotiation.

What is working for me recently is a conscious, constant effort to bring my attention 100% to whatever I'm doing, no matter how trivial or easy, and keep it there.  The immediate result is I'm more connected to and satisfied by the task; it's palpable and makes even banal efforts rewarding.  I also see the immediate effect of any dilution of focus:  I forget what I'm doing, do it wrong, or do it differently than I intended.  What's stunning is how far away I can travel from the work-at-hand before even noticing I've left.

Basil Day 4

Friday, July 25, 2014

It dawns on me that I've not felt fully settled in NYC since returning in 2004.  No wonder I look around my apartment and see nests:  found nests, made nests, suggestions of nests.

The loft was always a transient space; the trauma of that mass eviction (2007) still affects me.  Judy and her third floor in NJ were the net that caught me and helped me keep sanity, momentum, and Timmy and Riley as I sought my next roost.  I took a studio in South Slope while living there.

I decided right after the eviction that if there was any way for me to buy an apartment, then I would; I did, in 2008.  I gave the South Slope space up after a few months and moved the studio home.  In 2012 I became full-time faculty and rented a Gowanus studio.  Home and job stabilized!

Wednesday I moved the studio back home.  Home destabilized!  Here's a newspaper clipping I keep taped to my monitor:

 ... the one thing that doesn't dim with age is the chance to change people's lives for the better, even our own.

I have some ideas for new work trajectories and am carefully trying to implement them.  Maybe too carefully.  I'm trying to guide myself to avoid known traps, but being too cautious is as self-defeating as being too careless.  What rules do I need and what rules do I need to reject?  And how do I follow the rules that I need, seeing as my natural path is to make them then ignore them?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Today was my first full day of studio work in months.  And it’s new work.

An artist posted a query on Facebook about facing the blank canvas, inviting others’ thoughts.  Reading responses (and not being a painter), I felt a bit alone in my battle to even get myself to the studio.  I don’t mean the practical battle of time but the amorphous, tricky battle of me.  I want to go, I need to go, I don’t go.  Among the fears is something like the blank canvas:  that I won’t know what to do, that anything I do will be awful, that the psychic fallout of that is more than I feel I can bear.  (If I’m in the midst of a way-of-working this is not as substantial an issue; it’s the in-between times.)

I’ve developed strategies to sabotage my self-sabotage, one being to get to the studio very early in the day, before I’ve started any of the negotiating that I always seem to lose (win?).  Another is to set no expectations other than to be there and open.  A third is to allow myself to leave when I am ready, no matter how short a time.  These work.

The new efforts follow on the Japan drawings in globalizing my personal worries.  I am pleased about that.

As I worked today I was also reminded of my compulsion to avoid waste.  This isn’t new but seems to be growing more pressing.  Discarding something because it has become useless to me feels cruel … a rejection, a refusal to allow for its potential.  (A quote from my mother:  “Fuck potential.”  But she was referencing people who “have potential” yet do nothing [ever].  We don’t get points for that.  She was right.)  And/or:   fear that whatever I let go of I will soon need, then have to mourn not having it any more.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Written on the return flight Monday, June 30 (and toyed with ever since):

I’m at 35,000 feet as I write, mercifully that height and about three hours away from closing my responsibility for the eight students still with me.  One was dismissed, two left early to attend to family matters, and one is continuing in Europe.  I love Paris; I dislike the role of trip leader.  

I expect the students have mixed feelings about me, and I have some about myself.  After 100,000 requests (from the valid to the ridiculous to the juvenile) and judgment calls over 19 days, I know I did my best to be fair, patient, instructive, and fun.  That few of the students would see my effort as good enough (I have to assume) is a tough pill given how hard I worked on their behalf – whether they liked the form that work took or not.

But it’s not just me.  I’ve not been singled out.  It is most of these students' view of the world and what it is supposed to do for them.  The limits of my ability or willingness are received as an inconvenience rather than as a meaningful boundary.  They are always right in their own minds, and unmoveable in that there is no other possibility than their rightness.

And then, home for 24-plus hours:

What am I to take away from all this?  That I adore Paris – ADORE it – is not the hard thing to come to.  It is the obvious thing, the thing that rescued the experience.  What else?

And now another day-plus beyond that (and more consistently alert):

I am going through baguette withdrawal. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I wrote this post on June 15 and am only returning to it these nine days later:

Is it a set-up or naive to be longing for a transformative experience at age 57, given (literally) 18 days in Paris?  I left NYC so depleted and anxious that I almost couldn't leave NYC, wanted to crawl inside myself and pull the door closed tight; had someone offered me an out, I would have only been able to refuse by telling myself that my nature is to resist the new - and that, once on the other side of the transition, I am likely to be so thrilled as to be embarassed by my fright.

So, at age 57, if I can't escape (or even short-cut) this pattern of dread ... herculean effort to act anyway ... delight, then how available could I be to transformative experience?  My hope is that, now more or less on the other side of the transition, I can open wide.  I am opening, bit by bit, and aspire to wide, will try to commit to wide.

Paris is so utterly different than NYC that I feel foolish for having said "Why would I use my scarce time to travel going to a city?  I have city.  I need not-city when I'm away."  The comment wasn't made in the context of the gift of a trip in exchange for bringing 12 college students to a seminar.  That almost makes it worse:  that I would have believed myself had I not had the opportunity to realize the narrow-mindedness (and NYC-centricity) of that comment.

Paris is lower, wider, slower, softer.  In just three days here, NYC seems so hard.  I knew it was hard, but not so hard ... harder.  While having about three words of French and being alone is making me self-conscious about engaging, I feel comfortable here in myself:  wandering, looking, taking pictures, making notes.  That has to be the opening for bringing some freshness into my life.  ("Transformation" is such a sappy word.)  I started reading The Snow Leopard, a choice made to build my confidence, tell me it's OK to want more (and less), and to put the relative safety of my travels in perspective.

I am sitting on a bench in the Place des Vosges, a ten-minute walk from my apart'hotel.  It is cool and breezy, and the park has started to empty as people head to dinner.  I came here on a walking tour of the Marais yesterday, and veterans from D-Day were here in uniform.  The 70th anniversary (June 6) was a huge celebration.  There will be few years of having soldiers who lived the experience alive.  Will the forgetting accelerate when we don't have to look at them?  Four visitors to the Jewish Museum in Belgium were murdered May 24, and there were police guarding (a ladybug just showed up on my Mac) a Jewish boys' school in the Marais by the Memorial de la Shoah.

Now, these nine days later, the phrase "be careful what you wish for" has taken on entirely new meaning.  My love and wonder at Paris continue; my experience as a trip leader has been extraordinarily difficult and disappointing.  If I've learned anything about myself, it's that I am strong and capable and patient, and that I will not do this again.  Between my introversion and ways-of-being and the generalized nature of 20-year-old American college students, the stress and unpleasantness are not worth the opportunity for personal adventure and growth.  What I had hoped would help me turn a corner has given me a fresh day-to-day experience, but not the freshness in myself I need.  We have a few days left and, barring any further catastrophes, my wishes and expectations seem now right-sized.

Monday, April 28, 2014

What else is there, really, other than to be as kind to everyone and everything around us as we can be?  Kindness takes different forms, not all of which register as "kindness" at first glance, but it seems to me, at least at this moment, the bottom line.

Two group exhibits coming up, both seemingly of their own volition.  One at R. Jampol Projects, called "It's a Small World," organized by James Prez.  The other at the Ground Floor Gallery, which will coincide with Gowanus Open Studios this fall.

I'm in a warp:  end-of-semester (a brutal one) constriction, travel jitters, new cat (Rosie), sadness in my family.  I continue to write in All My Other Places, which is good because the need for privacy is good.

Here's a couple of pieces that might go into "Small World" (neither exceeds about 4" in one direction):

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Written March 5:  I'm still out here.  It's been a long time since I wrote here; I've been writing in all my other writing places.  It's all come down to a tiny notebook:  harsh observations about myself and the occasional a-ha.  Self-therapy.  It would be a luxury to have that type of support now, but the studio takes financial priority.  Since I'm not really active right now, it just feels sensitive everywhere.

Today, April 12:  Since starting this post I turned 57 (not easy) and got a second cat, Rosie, on/for my birthday.  She was a gift to Grace and myself.  I feel better that Grace has company.  Rosie fit right in.  (I don't take that for granted.  Many years of cat experience.)

I have been to the studio maybe four times this year.  I was there today and it's that uncomfortable, sad, frightening place of not knowing what to do.  I'm just messing with materials:  thread knotted into lengths of bubble-like circles, bits of painted and unpainted wire, wood chips from the sticks ... and then I added tiny fabric scraps I saved from two decaying personal items:  an antique photograph album of my mother's and a small, sweet pillow made from a quilt, which has fallen apart.  The fabric/wood interaction may have potential, which is soothing; I wasn't looking for or expecting that.

Soothing...  I thought of that word in the studio today; making art is self-soothing (when it's not self-undermining).  What seems ironic is that what upsets me - what I need soothing against - becomes the "message" (awful word) of the work.  (That's probably logical and obvious; I'm too close, which is OK.)  And much of what upsets me is universal, which must be part of what invites or at least allows viewers in.  Another part is my vernacular.  (Never used that word before, but I'm curious about the choice.)  It's universal and private at the same time.  And it's self-soothing when it flows.

I'm nostalgic.  I'm wearing a gold chain Aunt Janet gave me, with my baby ring on it.  Pictures of my parents and the boat sit on my piles of sweaters so I see them when I open the drawer.  The fabric bits in the studio are of this.  I'm pulling material (literally) from the past, and trying to make a whole, but I can't.  The materials themselves - my choices - won't allow it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

This brutal cycle.  It arrives at a level of despair, then a spark jumps out of the exact process I had been judging as wasteful.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

fragments of our own hit the notes I wanted it to.

What We Do to Each Other, in fragments of our own

fragments of our own (detail)

fragments of our own (detail)

I hope that the modest sense of traction I'm feeling is real ... and lasting.  The exhibit was a terrific experience.  It was so gratifying to return to contextual work.  Gallery traffic was strong, and critics and curators spent time with the work.  There was a small splash of media buzz.  I'm pleased I gave the gallery talk; turnout was disappointing, but the experience was not.

Last weekend was open studios.  The work I put up dated from 2007 ... a revisiting and re-presentation in the wake of fragments.   It all feels current to me.  Had some visitors who expressed interest, including the gentlemen from Curious Matter.  I plan to visit there this weekend.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Meet Mabel.

My parents had Mabel shipped back from Italy around 1969, with her pedestal.  My dad was flush then, and they took an annual European vacation.  Mabel's pedestal is with me, but Mabel is in Florida (above).  She has been there since my mother's death in 1986, when my brothers and I did not have the practical or emotional resources to deal with her.  (She is very heavy despite her lithe, albeit mossy, appearance.)

My Mom's sister Harriet, who died this past August at 95, had Mabel in her studio as a figure model.  When Harriet moved to assisted living, Mabel went to my cousin Paul's.  This photo is in his front yard.  Who in Brooklyn would put Mabel out like this?  It unnerves me to think of it.

It is likely that Mabel will return to NY. I hope so.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

I drafted the paragraphs below around September 8.  Revisiting them these weeks later was interesting. I want to write more (I deinstalled today) but now need to re-catch up with myself (again).

It was a strange summer, bumpy.  After a vacation in California, my little Glenwood died.  Then, a good stretch in the studio ended with Aunt Harriet's death, and an overnight to Florida to see family and attend her service.  All with the NURTUREart exhibit simmering and fall semester coming.

I'm now on the other side of the exhibit opening and start of classes, and apparently survived.  I'd thought to document the installation's progress here but then found myself not that interested so didn't.  The abridged narrative is that I worked in the gallery Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday morning; fragments of our own opened Friday.  The reception was terrific.  Lots of people, a good climate.  I had more fun than I expected.

I haven't done contextual work in awhile.  Having a lot of gallery hours available to work was a bonus.  

The first phase felt familiar:  working with the wooden sculptures, What We Do to Each Other, and surfaces (table, shelf, floor).  It felt like making Parts to the Whole.  The decisions were confident.  In the next phase some self-consciousness about the new territory took hold.  Splinter installation #1 was the pivot point; it took a push.  From then on, I needed to stay connected to the ideas and specifics of the space when the questions got harder and I became more aware of time.  I felt at risk of rushing Thursday night, so stopped; Friday morning I had the answer as soon as I walked in (one I would never have come up with the night before).

I'm looking forward to going back to the gallery within the next week to see it.