Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Taking Back Joy


"As we get older we define happiness less in terms of excitement and more in terms of peacefulness."
                                                   -page 103 "Option B" by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

I find this statement to apply to all facets of my life. Though I have always needed to experience solitude throughout my life and actively sought it out through my plein air painting experiences, I find now that noise and the chaos of crowds is actually painful to me. More and more, I retreat from the din and avoid having to attend parties and gatherings where I can't filter out conversation from noise.

My evening walks are more than for the sake of exercise. They primarily allow me to gather my thoughts... organize my ideas and to look without interruption. In a passage I have always favored from "another wonderful guide book:

"He leadeth me beside still waters... and it restoreth my soul."

It is when I am on these walks that I encounter "signs" (to me at least) of  Allison's renewed presence in my life...  manifest in the simple blessings of Nature and life that we shared together. Hand feeding chickadees... netting butterflies... capturing preserve sealers of twinkling August fireflies. All such perceived simple blessings weave us together into a tapestry of complete Peace and Joy.

                 "Peace is joy at rest and joy is peace on its feet." (Reverend Veronica Goines)

This personal perception of my continued connection to Allison might cause many to scoff... equating this to denial at best, or worse... delusion. But no matter the skeptics' views... "She" remains firmly embedded in my consciousness in a fashion that offers Hope in lieu of despair on a daily basis.

I have accepted that her spirit has left its physical vessel. Her presence now exists only in memories we each carry of her. But that spirit and energy which belonged to her alone and defined her continues to manifest itself in ways that only we shared... and understood.

I choose to take back Joy... and to pass it forward through my thoughts and actions to honor her... and my Self. Art and painting are the cement and underpinnings of our separate life's work. Hers was  achieved through research and scholarship. Mine through a combination of art history and fine art. Both shared a common passion and pivotal centre - Venice.

"La Serenissime" - the  Molo in Venezia - oil on canvas 36 x 36 inches

Forever serene!

Love you Jemima 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Mindfulness... Gratefulness and Responsiveness

My post today embraces lingering feelings and thoughts that emerged within me during of my most recent plein air experience. I returned to the field in search of a quiet retreat from the noisy tourist traffic and constant bus traffic in the village.. and the incessant growl of whining jet skis and motorcraft out on the river.

It required little more than a few words of encouragement from my painting friend Paul Taylor from Rochester, NY to pack up our gear to seek out a site where we could escape the din and enjoy some plein air painting. I suggested a short twenty minute jaunt to the sleepy backwater hamlet of Lyndhurst... a place where I knew there was lots of painting material that would interest us both.

Paul chose a site up on the road which runs across the three span stone bridge spanning the Lyndhurst Creek. Constructed in 1856-7, it is the oldest existing bridge in Ontario and still functions in linking Lyndhurst to the neighbouring communities of Delta and Lansdowne. I set up just below the bridge on the shore of the pond looking westward towards the United Church.

My painting was to become a smallish vertical 10 x 8 inch sketch on panel which began poorly due to my agitated state. I could not get my right hand to "behave" in its usual way. It simply couldn't settle down to business and permit me to draw... as is my usual approach to establishing a beginning.

Rather than continuing to fight against the problem... which I knew would persist, I chose to shift my approach from mapping my beginning... to massing. I built form out of massed colour blocks to shape composition. I then took a walk away from the resulting colour patchwork to gain some space to think... relax and recalibrate before stepping back to the painting to finish.

I decided to add only minimal detail and to survey the whole thoroughly to ensure that I hadn't missed necessary information. I simply looked for the remainder of the session while Paul finished up. I decided to complete the few remaining licks needed to finish... away from the site back at the studio from memory. No camera reference!

Mindfulness... is the act of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring totally in the present moment. The plein air painting approach maximizes the opportunity and the atmosphere most conducive to encourage this state.

Gratefulness... is the combination of many blessings that I realize and appreciate more than ever in my life since Allison's tragic passing. I am grateful for the treasured memories of Yesterdays which remain protected forever in my heart. I am mindfully grateful... for the Today that I have been given to enjoy and share with my friends and family that I love. Finally... I am grateful for the gift of being able to dream and envision a Tomorrow... and hopefully... to be given the time to actualize it.

Responsiveness... The culmination of Yesterday's plein air adventure was this small oil sketch. Though surely imperfect... it mirrors  a small, but significant insight into the journey that I have begun to establish a "new normal". It was executed out of physical necessity, using an alternate response to solving the problem of commencing a painting on location.

Electing to navigate one's daily life and solve daily problems incorporating these principles enhances the opportunities for success... and joy. Are they such hard to achieve objectives????

I wonder...

Good Painting to ALL!!! ... and Rich blessings!

                            " A Lazy August Morning in Lyndhurst" - oil on panel 10 x 8 inches

                                 "A journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step."
                                         - from the Tao Te Ching ascribed to Laozi

Sunday, August 20, 2017

August... on my mind

This still life symbolizes a blend of summer which encapsulates memories of both my parents. My Dad's awakened tastes for ripened summer fruit and corn is paired with my Mom's penchant for equally colourful and fragrant roadside flowers.

The card "Keep Smilin" was pinned to a cork board in his basement "Inner Sanctum" retreat. It is now tacked to my own cork board facing this computer space where I retreat to to think and write.

In 2015 we were blessed to share this festive weekend with Joan and Allison here in Rockport.We were optimistic as Allie passed the halfway marker in her chemotherapy that she would emerge healthy and victorious over this dreaded cancer that threatened her life.

August is once again ... on my mind. But in a whole new fashion. Allie has joined Mom and Dad. Who could have believed????....

But today my memories of her are added to theirs. All I can do is continue to believe in her miracle... and to serve them with Faith and Courage. I paint... I feel and I dig deeply to continue my journey for each of them.

"He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How."  - Friedrich Neitzche

Happy Birthday Mom and Dad... I love you FOREVER Jemima Puddle Duck!

God bless the three of you! I love each of you forever.

Till we meet again...

"He leadeth me beside still  waters... and fields of ripening hay" It restoreth my soul.

"God's Green Acres" -  recent plein air oil on canvas 10x14 inches

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Alone... Together

Strange "couple" here in this title. But they do in fact best describe both my state of mind at times... and my connection to Allison. This Yin and Yang pairing perhaps create a better understanding of the complex dynamics of grief and loss... and also the process whereby one navigates this "new normal".

There is no setting aside the deeply embedded yearning for her presence... nor are there any words to sufficiently describe or soften the ongoing grief that we who loved her so dearly feel because of her absence. But paradoxically, within the state of aloneness that grief creates there also exists an opposing and unexpected feeling of togetherness.

My painting serves today as it always has in my life as something that I pursue with joy and passion. It is the rudder and the compass of my ship. Art conjoined Allie and I during our entire lives... and even in death's company... Art draws us strangely ever together in spirit and purpose.

Shown below is a smallish plein air sketch completed during this past week. It was completed on site in less than two hours and lifted my spirits greatly.

"Summer Psalm" - oil on canvas 10 x 12 inches

And for my own purposes at this moment...  I can "see" Beyond.

I love Jemima Puddle Duck... forever!

Good Painting !... to ALL... and rich blessings.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Great Divide... or... the Space in Between

Prelude to Acceptance and Recovery

I have anguished for a lengthy period of time about continuing to post... for a number of  strong personal reasons. Allison's sudden passing has certainly been one of them, but I can't let that in itself become a driver in my decision.

Posting here on my blog has always provided me a strong motivation to connect with other like-minded artists who share my passion to express our feelings and ideas in paint. Giving that up would be depriving myself of that valuable opportunity to share my voice and connection with  those who share my path.

I intend to hopefully examine and discuss my attempts to create and pursue a "new normal" for my life in the face of the huge void and upset that Allison's passing has created within my daily life. Strangely enough, this new state of daily living somewhat follows the old path,... even though I know and totally accept that the "old normal" forever slipped away into the obscurity of a place that I am yet unable to travel to... along with my lovely daughter Allison' s physical being and presence.

At this moment, I propose continuing to post choosing to select "sunnier" memories of Allie. I hope to show how they might reflect and support a clear view of a kind of cross-pollination of my current healing and painting processes that I have discovered and am exploring.

All voyages into the unknown involve dealing with a cauldron of strong and potentially caustic personal emotions within... of sadness, fear, doubt and distrust. Think of man's first attempts to step out beyond what was known on land in a small vessel out into the vastness of an ocean... not knowing what lay ahead and without charted knowledge and experience to guide you.

Deep personal grief is exactly akin to that. I can now readily relate to the overwhelming sense of disorientation and fear that accompanies deep loss... that moment when what you knew and experienced as "normal" life disappears in a single instant from view and beyond physical reach. A common expression of compassion offered by many who came to me to add words of comfort or express their own disbelief offered was "There are no words". And that is indeed the fullest truth.

Selecting a Pathway to Recovery... and a "New" Normal

During my entire lifetime I have recognized the value and significant role of Nature... painting and music in establishing a feeling of harmony and peaceful accord. They inter mesh to help form a creative web upon which I have always been able to "rise out of the ashes" of the discord that lately, seem to exist more and more... everywhere in life. It is these three significant gifts or guideposts that I believe can light my pathway towards... that "new normal" I seek to exist in.

My therapist/social worker suggested in our session yesterday that I very much needed to actualize my own well-being and healing by trying to learn not to assume responsibility for the health and well-being of everyone else around me. She gave me "a "homework" task to choose two definable and achievable activities based purely upon my own enjoyment that I could easily conduct and would focus upon this self-supporting goal.

I replied almost without hesitation... "Yes... painting en plein air for a day. I haven't done so since late February when I was in the Barbados on location for the day at Hunte's Gardens". After some thought I added a second task. "I will attempt not to contact or check in with any of my (now grown) children during that same week of change". Now to follow through...

First Steps

After reading the prelude, I'm sure that all of you can figure my primary intent in choosing the title for the post. It most certainly pertains to the great and incomprehensible void in which each member of our family has been sadly thrust. However, I intend something else as well that perhaps puts a more positive "spin" on the title's intended meaning.

While I was in the midst of trying to find my footing (and a worthy subject) for my first major painting to begin that creative recovery, I sat alone in our gallery for an afternoon staring around the collection of landscapes that I had created without the burden of sadness... worry or grief. I felt strangely calm as my eye passed along the walls from one to another.

While doing so, I began trying to select "favourites"... though I rarely ever have any. I suddenly realized that I was basing my attempts upon the comments that had come most recently from visitors as they walked about our gallery space for the first time.

I believe that the common denominator which drew both the viewer and me, the artist to think "good thoughts" and to feel a common familiarity with each piece was the simple fact that the physical space between the artist's eye and the actual subject (physical place) was decreased to such a degree... that both shared a more equal perspective from which to find a common feeling of joy.

The greater that feeling of shared verisimilitude and joy... the greater the likelihood that the viewer "might" actually become the owner. My title then speaks to the artist's ability to cross that great divide that separates "the ordinary" from the "soul grabber". That space unites the spirit of the artist... the viewer to the subject. As artists... let us all dream... to be different. Let us at the same time... serve our Selves!

In grieving... one cannot physically cross the "Great Divide". However... we can in spirit adopt/choose a pathway which incorporates Faith... Hope and Trust in something... or Some One... or even our Selves.which may beyond mortal planes and understanding. I choose that pathway of Hope rather than cynicism and despair... a pathway that embraces a belief that the vastness of this Universe contains opportunities, and even miracles we can neither imagine or yet understand.

Let us continue to believe in... and paint only that which brings us joy.

                              "Summer Siesta in the Islands" - oil on birch panel 24 x 30 inches

"There just aren't enough words"... so I'll simply let the painting speak to your heart... as it may!

Good Painting... and rich blessings to ALL!

Life... in the "BIG Onion"

Allison standing before one of her favourite paintings "The Adoration of the Magi" by Paolo Veronese. (c 1580) This is truly... the real... "Shock and Awe"

Wednesday, June 14th

Strange... this emotional state of  grief. Hard to describe. Hard to understand. Hard to cope with and mostly...  hard to forget at this stage beyond mere minutes. Sometimes... "like fog on kitty cat feet", it creeps up on you." At other times, it seems to totally swallow you like an avalanche or tsunami. Its cause is always obvious. How to climb out of its grasp safely is not.

Took a necessary break here in the composition of this post... just plain... outta steam!

Friday, May 26th marked the first month anniversary for Allie's passing. Though I readily recognized the fact and placed it on my calendar, I truthfully felt less of the destructive side effects that I had faced almost hourly in those first part of the month. The "missing" remains of course and in its full intensity. At some points in my day, I even feel guilty that my grief has even lessened so soon after her death.

There is no magical passageway to bypass grief... except to pass through it.  I can liken my own ongoing process of passage through my grieving to the common act of peeling an onion. The first cut releases an overwhelmingly punishing attack on the eyes (depending on the size and variety of the onion) and triggers uncontrollable and even painful floods of tears. These emotional responses must be endured and some people even look to strategies like cutting it under water in the sink to diminish its effects. But for most of us, we simply endure and carry on until gradually... our tears and the painful experience diminish and subside to become a distant memory.

The "big onion" metaphor can be further extended to describe how grief must likewise be pared or peeled away in layers until we get to the heart of the loss and can better understand the overall implications and realities which will allow us to create a new "normal" to replace the old one which has disappeared forever. It is only then that the seeds of new hope... meaning in life... happiness and a new life of joy can be planted and begin to flourish to enable one to create a new life without the departed member or loss suffered.

I am certainly still peeling... and reeling over Allison's tragic death. I still have a long way to go before I can finally find and fully enjoy that peace I seek. But my own journey is underway... independent of everyone else involved. I accept that Allie has gone and will not return. I accept that her spirit and energy have left this physical and frail existence that we call earthly life. In better terms, I also realize and am thankful that her long suffering is over. I am deeply saddened ... even angered that I must accept that her dreams... good works and personal possibilities have ceased at the same time.... except

That she pleaded with her Mom, her brother and I that we continue to live out our time in her honor to enable her spirit and work be continued despite her premature passing. I have promised/committed to make that so for as long as I have the time and energy to carry forward the gifts that she left with me.

I have plunged myself into the act and process of recovery, first by reading a marvelous guide/handbook by Bob Deits entitled "Life After Loss". I most heartily recommend it to anyone suffering any type of loss in the full spectrum of loss possibilities arising out of situations arising from death, financial, marital, or health issues. All qualify as losses that likely require professional support, counselling and considerable time to bring about closure.

I have made arrangements through my personal physician for counselling and am currently on a waiting list... which is why the book came first. I am as well researching a subject in preparation to get back to my painting. Painting for me has always been meditative and necessary to my overall well-being. Some ideas are presently floating about.... so stay tuned...

 I would like to end this post with a piece of art... not mine... but one brought to me by a young woman, "Meenie" (allie's word) for Maureen... who was so influenced by the two year old Allie that she was moved to make this wonderfully tender objet d'art/tribute that she delivered to me here in Rockport when she learned of Allie's passing. Allison would have loved this tribute so. It speaks of the plain and simple manner of Maureen... blended with a sensitive creative heart. It's price-less... to me for it captures in the simple eye of a child... the very essence of life that enjoined Allie and I since she was born!

The small "stone angel" portrait is simply titled: "Bruce and Allie... 1982." Doesn't it say everything???

Father's Day 2017 has been particularly difficult for me. This year marks the unexpected departure on a day where our family generally comes together... at least by mail or on the telephone. All of my children "checked in"... making the day more bearable  and less painful for me. I feel deeply blessed for this gift of love from each of the other four.

This is the face of a Venetian card made for glass bead work on handmade venetian paper that I received from Allie last Father's Day. This was the message of hope and love that accompanied it au verso. She always sent such a personal card in appearance... always accompanied by inspiring and uplifting words. Last year's card and message to me form the very foundation of my spiritual journey and strength. I owe that largely to her and my other children.

Is "She" gone???... NEVER!... for I carry her in my heart until I too reach the other side.

This is a small cast pewter amulet that Allison asked me to carry... and I did so throughout her valiant and courageous struggle against breast cancer. Do I [still] believe in miracles? Yes I do!

Allison was that miracle in my life... and for many others that she met and served in her too brief existence.

"I" love "You" ... FOREVER Jemima Puddle Duck!!

Life was good!

In closing out today's [too] lengthy Father's Day post, I wish to offer each of my other four children my thanks and rich blessings of Happiness ... Health... Peace and Joy in your own journeys! I love you all dearly... and equally for your unique contributions to my life and Happiness.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Hello... Goodbye

I have been experiencing great difficulty in becoming able again to express my thoughts and creative ideas freely here in this blog. Grief of this nature is very much like a tsunami. It wreaks unexpected havoc and fear... and leaves total chaos and disorientation in its aftermath. When one tries in desperation to reshape past meaning in one's life..., one is inevitably brought face-to-face with the reality that "normal"... as it was defined and felt in the past... has been forever swept away.

One can only move forward when this fact has been accepted... and the task is assumed to journey forward... searching for chards of the past which can be healthily carried forward to reconstruct a "new normal" which incorporates these and other changes to build a new foundation upon. Strangely, the Universe continues to serve Me" faithfully, as it always has in the past and for that...
I feel greatly blessed!

I very much enjoy watching one television series which focuses upon airport arrivals and departures for family members reunited after too lengthy physical separations. It always gives me pleasure and renewed hope that the world is not nearly as chaotic as the media portrays daily. Or worse still, that the planet is hopelessly consumed with madness and inhumanity (as witnessed most recently in London). I need to be reassured that people still matter - that goodness can prevail. I would choose not to continue forward if I were forced to believe, or accept otherwise.

My Faith and optimism have been greatly challenged by Allison's tragic passing. To say or pretend otherwise would only be dishonest. To surrender Faith however, would be to demean and  diminish the importance of Allison's magnificent "presence"... and the lasting legacy of the "presents" which she offered so generously to so many.

During the course of her difficult two year struggle to defeat the cancer that relentlessly ravaged her body, her Faith and Hope were not simply challenged, they were even dashed on many occasions along the path she was forced to walk. Most of us could never have walked that walk. It was Calvary for "Her"and then some... but she required very little propping up to continue bravely and hopefully onward.

Looking back over the many quiet conversations we had when these difficult and challenging moments arose, I would often offer that "Faith is not Faith... until it is challenged and is put to the test." But in the end... Faith alone was not enough to assure Allison the "miracle" that she  (and I) never stopped believing was possible.

Allison's journey has been fully run. She looked death straight in the eyes with great Dignity, Courage and Grace. Some would offer that it was all in vain when death swept her from "The Now". But I would offer that the "Now" ... and the "Future" that she was forced to forfeit... have been replaced by an unforgettable lesson of giving and grace that forges a highway from her Past... through to a Present and Future that she will not be physically present to see or enjoy. That Future will still continue to offer her gifts and shining presence ... passed forward to each of us who lived with... and loved her.

She will walk with each of us forever and the memory of her Faith in each of us will help shape not only our own personal actions and deeds. Her teachings and example will be passed forward to young men and women of that Future to build who will shape their own Faith and contributions to future generations. I faithfully believe in, and subscribe to this definition of... "Eternal Life."

She implored her Mom, brother Andrew and I to continue our journeys to honour her and not to let her loss diminish our own journeys. We each have struggled with the promise we each made to her in this regard. That struggle will take much time to actually occur. Perhaps... it never shall fully.

In today's post, I am presenting a first tiny step forward for me artistically in resuming my journey. It is a painting which in many ways lies outside my "normal". It was begun during our winter foray to the Barbados in what I consider is a true example of Eden here on earth. This magnificent garden was passionately created over nine years by its Creator, Anthony Hunte. Despite being dyslexic - his own revelation offered during tea... he is, however humble in spirit, a veritable walking floral encyclopedia with a vast love and knowledge of his many floral residents.

I have added some time and odd gestural flourishes to the first plein air version... but felt that the painting represented an unusual expressionistic response from me... to being floridly overcome in his sanctuary. I choose to leave it appearing to "shimmer" with flashes of broken form and color. It feels to me an honest interpretation/repesentation of the feeling and the place simultaneously. There is a distinct feeling that Diana is as overwhelmed by her tropical residence... as I was overcome while painting it.

                                                  "Anthony's Eden" - acrylic on canvas 30x24 inches

 I wish to thank those friends in my life who offered their loving support and uplifting words of encouragement. My love of dearest Allie combines with their presence to motivate me to search for new meaning and the courage to continue this blog and my painting. I do so to honor her.

In closing... I choose Hello... and never Goodbye.... sweet girl of mine. I love "You" forever Jemima!


Good painting .... to ALL!