Second Plein Air Painting

A little better today.  I spent more time on it and had a rag to wipe out mistakes and my brushes.  I’m learning.  The best think about painting is getting lost in the project.  I don’t think about anything else while I’m working.  I’m just trying to see what there is to see, and figure out a way to get it down in paint.   Even though I’m not good, I get a lot out of the process.  I feel authentically myself when I am painting, much more so than when I’m writing.  Maybe that is because I have no pretentions of being “good” at painting, while I do think highly of my writing skills.    

I think I indeed be quite happy living here.  The valley that you get to on Cactus Park Road here is incredibly beautiful.  I can’t imagine ever running out of things to paint there.

Could I live out here?

Could I?  Honestly, I don’t know.  I love it and it is part of my home territory.  My dad loved the West and drove us all around it for more than 20 years.  I’ve seen it change and I’ve seen it stay the same, exactly, as it was.  I love the subtle change of seasons in the dry brush.  It pays to pay attention.   I like arid, sunny, mountainous climates. I was born in the center of downtown Los Angeles.

Race is different out here.  First of all, depending on where you live, you hardly see it.  Inland and northern western states are very white.  White-Brown relationships are particularly complicated.  There is not simply a binary division between “whites’ and ‘hispanics,” since lots of hispanic people  are “white” in the eyes of Anglos  But it’s not that simple.   Southern California, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado have something in common with South Africa, in that these states share a culture  in which successive waves of very different white people came in, took over, and fucked a lot of stuff up.

I have seen one person of color since I’ve been here now for over a month and half, with a week break in the middle of the period.   It’s not normal.  Almost makes me ashamed to admit that a part of me thrives–no, comes back to life–out here in these sunny, arid mountains.   But lots of people come back to life in this climate.   That’s why it seems so weird out here—where are all the other people?  The community feels unbalanced, too homogeneous out here. Not quite “America.”

Plus there is no movie theater. Nor is there a decent bar.  Nothing even close to the symphony, not to mention opera or ballet or theater.   I can live without shopping malls–I order everything online anyway.  There is a good used bookstore.  It had a great s/f collection, and that is how I judge a bookstore.  But not much in the way of inspiring artists. At home I can not only know ABOUT an aspiring artist, I can also be get to know that person, and learn from her or him.

It’s a nice fantasy: myself out on the range, let’s say on an immense ranch of my own, with stunning views and clear streams, rustic exteriors and cozy interiors, great wine, fresh, organic, local produce, maybe even a few goats and chickens, and a steady supply of marijuana, of course, and books, and internet access.  Maybe I’d paint more.  Maybe I’d take up that rustic weaving project.  I’d revert to my hippie self.  Obviously I would grow herbs.  Maybe I would sell them.  I would practice Iyengar with Nancy and get very good.   I would converse with people through the internet, go to conferences, or not.

It’s such a common fantasy, it’s almost embarrassing to be having it.   What makes mine different is that I’d get to be near my brother, who is only a few years younger than I am.  I miss him.  And I’d be closer to my sister, and nearly all of my cousins and aunts and uncles.  My family.  But my son lives on the east coast, and so does my boyfriend.  So  I find myself in the same question: where does the heart yearn?  It years in opposite directions.  Irritatingly.

At least there is the prelude to Edvard Grieg’s From Holberg’s Time.”

In case you didn’t know, Ludvig Holberg was a Norwegian humanist, an Enlightenment thinker who is also called the founder of Norwegian and Danish literature.  Apparently he was pretty good at investing money.  I’ve never read anything he wrote.


My first plein air painting in years

I have been driving around this gorgeous mesa that slopes south-west here in south-west Colorado.  I’m sloping south-west too, these days.  Continuously cursing myself for not having brought a camera, I’ve gone round thinking–that! that!  I want to paint that! And I have these grand Georgia-O’Keefe/Frida Khalo fantasies.  (BTW: Did you see that recent film?? What Dreck!! So insultingly saccharine! It was on the other night and I could not sit through it.)  Right. So, me and my non-Hollywood fantasies.

Right after I got here I bought a small set of oils, some decent but inexpensive brushes, a canvas board and mineral spirits.  But I didn’t go out.  That’s right, I procrastinated until the very second to last day here.  But I did, indeed, go out, to what has a become my favorite stretch of Rimrock road.  I sat in the dirt, cleaned my brushes on cow-grass and rock, and tryed to express what I was seeing.

I think it’s pretty awful, but I’m posting it anyway.

 

Off Rimrock Road, Looking up into the Grand Mesa, Colorado

Shoulder Stand

I had no idea how hard one could work to do a proper shoulder stand.  O, and I’m doing nearly every other pose wrong, it turns out.  My muscles all want to work en masse, fused together, locked down, whereas to do a good triangle, for example, my muscles need to work separately, in different directions.  It’s an interesting mental game to focus on muscles I didn’t know I had and try to move them separately.  Kind of like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time,  only much harder.

Well, it clears the mind to have to tune in so intently on the body, and to realize that the body is not even close to being something under the control of the mind.  No, in fact, the body–with all its learned postures, its hunches, its clenched jaws, its legs pressed rigidly together, or crossed, or arms folded, or brow furrowed–influences the mind, makes it miserable, and then the mind sends distress signals that tighten down all the hatches, and the sphincter jams shut, which backs all the toxins into the body, and the mind complains, and the cycle continues.   This is the feedback loop that Tara Brach calls a “trance.”

So when you practice yoga with an expert Iyengar teacher such as Nancy Crum Stechart, whose class I took tonight, you are working so hard trying to get your brain to send the right signals to the muscles you’re trying to isolate and move, not to mention the focus you need to hold the pose while your entire body screams “ENOUGH!” that you don’t have time for the trance.  All this thinking about what getting your thigh to move forward while simultaneously moving your pelvis back and up, and then lengthening the spine while straightening the back leg and bending the front one just another half-inch, while keeping the pelvis tilted and the front thigh moving in the opposite direction–all this actually interrupts the feedback loop that usually takes over.  The sensations of pain or discomfort that you experience have clear and obvious relationships to the thoughts that you are having at that moment, and there simply isn’t time to think about anything else.  The mind clears for an hour or two.  It starts to clutter up again in Shivasana, corpse pose, when you are supposed to let everything go slack but also to do this consciously, remaining aware of the body and sending release to those muscles which are still holding on.

My mind is a mess of monkeys jumping from thought to thought.  It goes right into the jungle swinging, and it usually takes me a while to figure out where I’ve gotten to.  And then I go back to where I really am, on the floor, listening to the sounds coming from outside, and sensing soreness or tightness or fatigue in my body, and just staying there. But soon the monkey-mind is off again, and I just go along until I realize that it has carried me back to the feedback loop, and that my muscles are clenching again. I come back again and again, because I’m trying to recover from all the times throughout the day when I’m caught up in the loop.

I have had the great privilege to take some classes with Nancy Crum Stechert (so I’m repeating her name), who happens to be one of the premier Iyengar teachers in this country.  She started practicing yoga in San Francisco in 1976 and began studying with the Iyengars in India in 1983.  She has been studying regularly with them since then.  She founded the Colorado School of Yoga in Denver as well as the International School of Yoga in Tokyo.  She holds a Senior Intermediate level certificate in the iyengar method.  But aside from all her accomplishments, Nancy is a lovely person to be around.  She’s calm, non-judgmental, funny, and intelligent.  She reads a lot.  She disliked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for the same reason I did.  Neither of us enjoyed the sexual violence scenes. You can turn on the tv at any time of day and find a channel showing a film or show about a woman being menaced.  Why would anyone want to read more graphic descriptions of this masculinist torture?

I met a woman at a feminist function who raved about the trilogy.  I couldn’t understand why.  I like that they’re set in Scandinavia, because my mother was Norwegian.  And the little mystery about the photo frames was somewhat interesting.  But it took me a long time to get into the plot, which became a page-turner only because I had already invested so much time into the book.  But I really didn’t enjoy the blow-by-blow descriptions of violent rape.  I don’t mind graphic descriptions of sex.  In fact I like them. And I have no political beef with porn, in general, but simply do not personally get off on this particular type.  This seems to be the type of porn that people who like to say they’re against porn really like.  The quasi-feminist heroine gives them an excuse to indulge in this stuff they otherwise wouldn’t let themselves read.  They’re against rape and sexual violence against women,  but perfectly happy to spend hours reading and imagining it.   Indeed, they’re enthralled.  Well, I don’t enjoy it and feel unhappy when I have to experience more of it than necessary, either on screen or in a book.  Rant over.

I’m home now, exhausted.  I’m having a glass of excellent unoaked Chardonnay from Leroux vineyards,  halfway between here and my excellent yoga class.  I just ate an entire spaghetti squash, baked and served with butter and salt. My soup from last night, by the way, turned out to be excellent.

I’m going to end on this excellent note.

Edgy

So for three days now I’ve been rewriting the introduction and it is not going well.  I have written I think one paragraph that I like.  And I honestly do not know what else should go into it.  Enough introduction.  I am so heartily sick of writing the introduction.

The sun starts to hit the table where I work, in my brother’s kitchen, at about 3 pm, glaring off the screen and making it pretty uncomfortable to work.  I took a long break and drove up into the Grand Mesa National Forest, which you can only access by miles of dirt road.   Pretty awesome.  The road starts out through a valley bordered by a rim of rock that runs along the hills, winding through ranches with airplane-sized watering tractors, and long bunches of cedar and scrubby brush, and then heads upward so steeply that even my brother’s enormous truck slipped on the gravel at times.  I hadn’t put it into 4-wheel drive yet, trying to save gas.   After about 10 miles the ranches dropped out and there was just open sagebrush sea and scrub, and up ahead in the far hills a forest of gold.  And then I was in the aspen, all apricot shimmer and white trunks, and nearly hit a very black cow and its calf.   On I drove over a road that got markedly worse, so bad that I had to slow down and roll over the rocks and valleys at 1 mile an hour.

I reached Bailey’s Reservoir at about 4.  It is really just a lake nestled into the skirt of a small and barren valley.  Beautiful, but dark.  The sky was overcast, threatening to rain.  There was one bright yellow aspen against the black-green firs.  The ground was rust brown, mottled with cow-pies.  Little breeze.   I was away from the road, away from the truck, and tucked back into the woods, just the way I like to be.  Not a sound except for one weird cry that could have been a coyote or a crazy human. I guess it spooked me, because I didn’t want to stay there.  Maybe it was too quiet, deafeningly silent, after that.  There was no breeze, and I was too far away from the cows to hear them.  I regretted I had not brought the dogs.  It was so quiet that my brain started to make up sounds–to hear the buzz of the highway, or cars, or other kinds of urban noise.  These phantoms passed away.  An airplane thundered pass and it took a long time for the sound to fade.  But then it did, and all was silent again

I drove further down into the valley and headed back home.  Then I began to feel irritated with my cowardice, turned around, and headed back up to the lake.  But I couldn’t stay there.

I turned around again and drove downhill about a mile, across a rugged washboard road, got out, propped an easel against a rock, sat, and looked.  I could see way down across the Grand Mesa and out towards the West Elk Mountains and the flat land where Highway 92 runs from Hotchkiss to Delta.  I was way up on 3100 Road.

Even though I enjoyed the softness of the aspen trees that had already shed their leaves feathering up against the evergreens, and the broad swathes of gold behind them, and the valley spilling out below me; even though I was happily straddling a granite boulder like a horse, I couldn’t simply sit and be.  Too edgy.  I needed to move, get back, reach home before dark, before the rain.  Plus in this spot I could hear the cattle lowing, and they annoyed me.

They annoyed me more on the way back down, because they all seemed to have decided to go somewhere on the road at the same time.  Dinner?  There must have been thirty or forty of them, all told, on the way back.  All different colors, browns and tans, creams, and russets and blacks, bulls and cows and calves.  They frequently stopped right in the middle of the road, turned their enormous bodies sideways and stared at the headlights.  When I finally got through them all, and drove a little further down the mountain, I saw one pure white young cow grazing among the aspen.

I also saw hawks, and chipmunks, and deer.  I think they were deer.  Could have been elk.  One froze by the roadside, so I stopped and looked into her eyes until she decided I was no threat and moved on.  She had enormous ears.

Once I had a dream that three animals came to me, and when I awakened I fancied that they were my spirit animals, or totems.  They were an owl, a jackal, and a doe.  I saw the face of the doe this afternoon.

I’m making soup with last night’s creamed corn (I made it from fresh cobs), tomatoes that come from my brother’s garden here, caramelized onions and carrots, and sweet potato.  The broth is water-based. Since I’ve sworn off all processed foods I couldn’t use a cube, so I took a chicken breast out of the freezer and popped it in to the slow-cooker.  I made this before I left for my drive.  When I got back the chicken was tender enough and cool enough to shred with my fingers.  I poured another cup or so of water and about half a cup of wine into the broth, and it has been simmering for the past 40 minutes or so. I will have to let you know how it turned out.