All original images and text are copyright 2008-2018 Liz Sweibel

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.