On Turning Ten

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

– Billy Collins

Yesterday I celebrated a milestone birthday with family and friends. It was a day to enjoy the sweet things in life: sunshine, new lambs, the love of family and greetings from friends. It was also a day of national tragedy, with the bombings at the Boston Marathon. My hair stylist and friend was running the marathon with a birthday message to me written on her leg. I am thankful to report that she is ok… but it makes me stop and think about those families and friends who have loved ones that are not ok, and about those who have recently lost loved ones.

This milestone birthday was a harder one for me. I feel like it is the first ‘big’ number.  I was telling a non-artist friend that an art career, unlike some where you have company led goals, income, evaluations, etc., demands that your goals and feedback are mostly self-imposed. You don’t get regular paychecks, raises, etc. Although you deal with clients, galleries, jurists, and mentors, there is not one boss or authority that follows your career from start to finish and advises you on your strengths and weaknesses. It is up to you to sort out which direction to take your work, which successes to celebrate, which failures to overcome.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been getting wonderful validation lately. If you follow me on Facebook, you might already know that my painting “Golden Hour” was selected as an award winner in the Western Federation of Watercolor Societies show in Texas this month! Or you might have seen my new abstract painting winning an award in the Watercolor Society of Oregon’s show last weekend in Albany! Perhaps you saw my painting on the invitation for the NWWS Open show, which opened yesterday  at the Mercer View Gallery on Mercer Island, WA. This recognition from my fellow artists is one of the few milestones that help me navigate my progress on the artistic journey.

But, after the hubbub has died down, I still  have to go to the studio and face a blank piece of paper, make decisions about what to paint and how to paint it, and decide for myself if what I’ve made is worthwhile. Counting my successes does not make that part easier. In art, one is always searching, stretching, questioning, changing. So today, I have no new art to show you, despite just finishing a workshop and painting all week. I still need to process what will be kept in the winnowing of new information.

I think I’ll enjoy the sun today and go work in the garden! But I want to share a couple of things… this poem:

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life.

Mary Oliver


and this photo from our pasture today:


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