Monday, April 17, 2017

Spring Springing


This piece appeared first in the Spring edition of the magazine, Edible Berkshires.

March 17th

March Madness. I had a son who played high school basketball so I know all about the NCAA tournament.

But I’m talking about a different sort of madness here.

The kind where you’ve absolutely and totally had your fill of winter. And then some. But there’s at least five or six weeks of it left. You just don’t think you’re going to survive the last gasps of snow and ice and that bone brittle cold.

In three days the calendar says spring will arrive. Who are we kidding?



What about that mid-sized glacier blocking my back door?  I need hip boots to get to the bird feeder.
Who decided spring was in March anyway?

In 2009, my husband and I lived in Washington, DC, where I saw dark purple and yellow pansies thriving in FEBRUARY!  And the first week of April, there is the miracle of cherry blossoms. 

Hundreds of trees, each looking like they are wearing a delicate pink ballerina’s skirt fluffing around them.

Back to the misery that is an early Berkshire County spring. I am remembering a May 20th when we had to light the damn woodstove.

OK, enough of this miserable complaining.  For a moment this morning, stare at the beautiful meadow outside the window.

There now. It’s sunrise and the willow trees are glowing a pale orange. The buttery disc that is the moon is setting over that beautiful hillside you are so fortunate to see.

Before you decide you are moving to Miami, open the back door and inhale the absolutely pristine country air. Let the throaty racket that is the morning’s birds settle deep into your heart and soul.

Soon you will start to feel the continuing miracle that is Mother Nature.

Meditate on the fact that despite the cold and snow, the sun is up once again and it’s another glorious day in the Berkshires.
********
April 17th

Finally, thank God, it's here. Hard to fathom what’s happened in the last few days.


It was winter-looking even on Sunday. The pond still had some white ice.

The backyard glacier was still the size of a sectional sofa. There, lying everywhere in the backyard, were those crystallized eyebrows of snow.

And then of course, was the mud. Where there wasn’t snow there was the misery of goo that we have to endure between winter and spring.

But whoosh! Monday came and its mild temps erased the ice. The glacier was no bigger than a dinner plate. The mud was drying up.

Now there's a hint of spring in the lawn. Green shoots have popped up everywhere, and amidst the crusty brown leaves appears the first purple crocus!! Soon we will have the ecstasy of daffodils and tulips.

The birds are doing their sweet singing, too, and those wonderful spring peepers are making a racket, which always sounds a bit extraterrestrial to me.

At the feeder today, there are brilliant yellow goldfinches. And a redwing blackbird. And nuthatches. And then, our one true harbinger of spring: dozens of robins are bobbling around right where that glacier used to lay.

Will the rose-breasted grosbeak return come May?

Open the windows and all of the doors. Let it all in: the sun, the budding trees, the spring breezes that smells like warm earth.


After what we in Berkshire County have endured, there is no end to this mighty miracle that is spring!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

What if the water in your sink poured out black and stinky?


If you were listening to All Things Considered on NPR last evening, chances are you heard a very moving story about a special education school on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. The school, which has been operating for 40 years, offers services to about 60 children and adults with moderate to severe disabilities.

Saint Michael's Special Education School has a water problem. A BIG problem. The tap water often pours out black and foul-smelling into the sinks. The school is forced to buy its water in big jugs, which costs the school thousands of dollars a year. St. Michaels needs clean water, and there is now a project underway that would supply that water.

Amazingly, the foul water meets national drinking water standards -- the so-called primary standards. As NPR correspondent Laura Morales reports, the water is not poisonous. But it doesn't meet the secondary "aesthetic" standards which affect how the water tastes, looks and smells.

Enter Dig Deep, a California-based non-profit organization devoted to helping communities dig and maintain low-cost water supplies. Dig Deep has a filtration plan for St. Michael's water system. That water project costs $100,000. They have raised $75,000 already. Can you and the people you know help them reach their goal?

As the young Navajo girl tells the camera in a video on the Saint Michael's website, "WATER IS LIFE!"

Indeed, water is a precious resource. Here in the Northeast, we so easily take clean water for granted. Lately, though, even before I knew about St. Michael's problem, I have been thinking a lot about water, and how it's in such short supply in so many western states. It makes me turn faucets off, do less wash, take shorter showers, flush toilets fewer times.

To donate to the water project, go to Dig Deep's website. Fortunately, we don't have to dig too deep in our pockets to help make clean water flow on a reservation in Arizona.

This piece also appears on The Huffington Post.





Tuesday, April 04, 2017

NASA: 235 trillion miles is close by in the universe!

On February 22, 2017, The Washington Post reported:
"A newfound solar system just 39 light-years away contains seven warm, rocky planets, scientists say. The discovery, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, represents the first time astronomers have detected so many terrestrial planets orbiting a single star. Researchers say the system is an ideal laboratory for studying distant worlds and could be the best place in the galaxy to search for life beyond Earth."

 It's been weeks since the discovery was announced.  
By
now
I suppose I should have fathomed this news.
But as many times as I read accounts
of the discovery, I am awed. My brain can
absolutely make no sense of the distance. 
NASA says that these exoplanets
can be reached in 40 light-years.
40 light-years, huh?
That equals
235 trillion miles, a distance that 
NASA says "is relatively close to us."
Double HUH??
Why do I keep coming back and 
coming back and coming back
to what I call one of the deepest
mysteries I can recall.
I was talking to my son-in-law Evan, a rather
brilliant scientist, about light-years.
He calculated that if you were traveling at the speed
of light, you could circle the Earth
seven times in one second!
Maybe it's just me, but I believe that
all of this is rather impossible
to take in.
It's a little (just a very little) like standing
at the edge of the Grand Canyon and
trying to absorb the vast pink and brown and orange 
glory before you.

This news is definitely in the category of 
things I will never ever comprehend.
It's right up there with staring at a baby
or a flower or somebody's eye

and all those other miracles of Mother Nature.
I could spend each day for the rest of my life
contemplating all of this and I am quite sure
I will always end up in the same place
Mystified and oddly, comforted too,
that there is an INFINITY of 
of miraculous things and us? Hardly a speck of dust in the Universe.





Thursday, March 30, 2017

Remembering Mom on her Birthday

My mother, Dena Ricci, would have been 91 years old today!

As my sister Holly Ricci wrote in Mom's obituary, "She (Dee) had an unrivaled talent for creating a warm and loving home that provided a true oasis of comfort for all who entered. For those lucky enough to sit at her dinner table, they enjoyed legendary pot roasts, picture-perfect pies, warm loaves of homemade Italian bread -- all served with kindness, loving hospitality and impeccable style."

She lives on in the hearts and minds of all of her loved ones!


March 30, 1926 - October 17, 2015

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Poem for a Foggy Day



forget carl

forget fog creeping in
on little cat feet. Meet instead 
the white vapor swallowing
my head, whole hog.

Wallowing, he devours
ships, the tallest redwoods.
Entire landscapes, coastlines
the size of Maine
drip from his soft gray lips.

Fed, he leers, gluttonous.
This pig can be butchered
but it takes an ax of sun to roast him.

Then he boils off, froth to the sky.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A writing class that draws on meditation and inspirational exercises



WRITE YOUR HEART OUT:

A Workshop to Discover Yourself in Words and Meditation

Lenox Community Center
Lenox, MA

10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

First session
Saturday, March 25th, 2017

$25 per session

Subsequent sessions April 1st, 8th and 15th

Do you dream about becoming a writer? Do you write and then secret it away in a drawer? “Write Your Heart Out” is a workshop that will lead you through a series of meditative and inspirational exercises designed to help you write about your life and things you love. These exercises are very simple – as simple as breathing – and they will help bring to the surface your thoughts, your past experiences, and your feelings, some of which may surprise you. 

We rely on breathing because our end goal is to help you write the same way you breathe – naturally, without thinking about it, letting words and images rise to the surface. Then we just write them down! Simple, right? WRITE!

This workshop is not intended to teach the nuts and bolts of writing but rather to encourage writers to discover their authentic voices, in part by reading their work aloud. Along the way we aim to take the fear out of writing.

So if you want to be creative and relaxed while having fun, then please come join us!

In this workshop you will learn:

How to give yourself permission to write
How to develop your own authentic writing voice
How to use music and art and photos to spark your writing
How to use meditation and visualization to inspire your writing  
How to establish and maintain a writing routine
How to build a supportive writing community

This workshop is offered by Claudia Ricci, Ph.D., a long-time University professor who is also a published fiction and non-fiction writer.  A practitioner of yoga and meditation for many years, she began teaching “Write Your Heart Out” workshops in 2003 and began painting the same year. Her websites are at claudiaricci.com and claudiaricciwritingclasses.com


Contact Claudia Ricci at claudiajricci@gmail.com or (518) 469-7854.

Praise for Write Your Heart Out:


“It was a great course. In addition to being an excellent teacher, Claudia Ricci has a way of getting people to feel comfortable with their writing.  I've been writing, writing, writing and I feel it's very helpful in reducing stress.”
-- Jane 

“I totally loved the workshop!!!! The time went so fast, and the exercises were very meaningful for me. You did such a great job of weaving it all togethker at a great pace. THANK YOU!!!!!!” – Jacqueline

“I took Claudia Ricci’s workshop in January for a “jump start” and it was great.  The attendees were diverse in age and writing experience, but they all seemed to love the class.  Some of the writing exercises took us places we didn’t know we were going until our pens were moving on the paper.  Claudia’s critiques of the writings that people chose to share were very positive and encouraging.  I would highly recommend her classes.” -- Anne

“This was a well-thought out workshop. It was such a treat to have the time to just write. The writing ideas were free enough so that I felt I could just "play" and see what happened.” -- Christine

“Claudia Ricci’s workshop was very enjoyable . It got me to start putting things on paper – that made me powerful enough to express my feelings.”
-- Sarah

I would like to thank you for this wonderful workshop.  You made us all feel welcomed and stimulated and confident with our writing. I enjoyed your techniques and methods.  The exercises – including the guided imagery -- I found very useful.  It brings out the creative juices!  The breathing exercise was calming and helped get the writing process going. This workshop offered such a wealth of information, encouragement, and teaching tools to help me feel motivated to write.  Participating in this class has helped me to go from thinking to actually writing.  I enjoyed how you made the class personal as well, opening up each of us to witness others. This approach helped me to see we really all have the same human struggles and we just need to be positive and start writing!! Bravo!!”      -- Dalija





Sunday, March 19, 2017

Fantastic Flower Show at Smith College


There may still be lots of snow on the ground, and several weeks before bulbs blossom in the garden.



But in a 19th century greenhouse on the Smith college campus in Northampton, MA, a spectacular flower show boasts hundreds and hundreds of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, orchids and various other spring flowers.

People walk into the show and are stunned, as if they've just stepped into Emerald City along with Dorothy and her three buddies. How do  you take in the dazzling splendor?

One of the volunteers said that she's never seen so many happy people. The crowds were thick and the cameras were everywhere, but people were smiling and extra polite.

The show began March 3rd and ended today, March 19th. Mark your calendar for next year.

Meanwhile, Smith's greenhouse, built in 1895, features towering palms and more exotic plants than you can imagine, all year round. Visitors are welcome, and the volunteer said to bring a book, as there are benches throughout the greenhouse.

What a great place to decompress and ponder the marvels of Mother Nature.

As my husband remarked, "it's like going to Florida or California."

It is, and it only cost $5.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Nation's Dunesbury Cartoon Dumps on Trump




Check out the Dunesbury cartoon on the cover of The Nation's March 20th special issue, which focuses on "Media in the Trump Era." If you aren't familiar with the magazine, here you go.  According to Wikipedia, 

"The Nation is the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States, and the most widely read weekly journal of liberal/progressive political and cultural news, opinion, and analysis. It was founded on July 6, 1865, as a successor to William Lloyd Garrison's The Liberator,[2] with the stated mission to "make an earnest effort to bring to the discussion of political and social questions a really critical spirit, and to wage war upon the vices of violence, exaggeration, and misrepresentation by which so much of the political writing of the day is marred." It is published by The Nation Company, L.P., at 33 Irving Place, New York City.[4] It is associated with The Nation Institute.

The Nation has bureaus in Washington, D.C., London and South Africa, with departments covering architecture, art, corporations, defense, environment, films, legal affairs, music, peace and disarmament, poetry, and the United Nations. Circulation peaked at 187,000 in 2006 but by 2010 had dropped to 145,000 in print, though digital subscriptions had risen to over 15,000."

I include the first and third frames of the cover cartoon. I offer the same advice I usually offer: show your support for progressive (anti-White House) politics and the media in general by subscribing to The Nation. And then buy a subscription for a friend!



On another note, MyStoryLives celebrates its 1000th post this week. Thanks to all those folks who have published here, and to all of the blog's readers as well.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

This CNN commentator Would Make a Great President!

This post appeared first in The Huffington Post.

I happened to walk into my husband’s office yesterday.
He was watching a video featuring a speech that CNN commentator Van Jones gave at an African American church (St. Sabina’s) in Chicago last month. It was startling. It was stunning.

I was on my way to take a shower when I stopped and watched the whole speech. I was transfixed by Jones’ extraordinary presence, his passion and his brilliance. He is also very handsome and that helps.

And yes, he reminded me of Obama!

As a CNN commentator, he always appears with a stage full of others. His remarks have impressed me, but it wasn’t until today that I was totally wowed by his integrity, his command of the political situation in this torn-up country, and his endless eloquence.

Jones was introduced by fellow CNN commentator David Axelrod, who helped engineer President Obama’s presidential campaign. (Axelrod and I were both Chicago reporters for competitive newspapers way back in the early 1980s, but I’m sure he wouldn’t remember me.)

He tells very touching stories about marching with coal miners. Being from the San Francisco Bay Area, he was trying to stoke up marching fervor among the miners. He launched into a chant and was mortified when none of the miners followed suit.

And then a woman came up to him and touched his arm.

“It’s not that they don’t want to join you,” she said. “But they can’t chant.”

Meaning that they had severely compromised lung ailments associated with years of inhaling coal dust in mile-deep mines. Jones was in tears.

As I watched, I found myself flying way back to 1992, to the New Hampshire primary, when there were a huge number of candidates fighting for the Democratic primary. I had virtually no interest in politics at the time. I sat down with my husband to watch a debate with the candidates. Within 30 seconds, I pointed to Bill Clinton.

“He’s going to win,” I announced matter-of-factly. He was so incredibly handsome and intelligent and he spoke with such style and pizzazz. I guess he was “telegenic” in a way that, sadly, his wife could never be.

Please. Take a half hour and watch this amazing video. See if you don’t agree that Van Jones would be an extaordinary candidate for President! (As far as I know he has no plans to seek elected office.)

Then send the video to all your email contacts. Do Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter. Talk to your friends and your neighbors and even the people who voted for you-know-who.

Jones makes a compelling case for those white factory workers who have been out of a job for four or more years. He forgives them for voting Republican. He carries you into the workers’ hearts and minds and lives. I found myself for the first time since the Election feeling some compassion for the voters on the other side.

Perhaps Van Jones can do the Bernie Sanders burn thing only better (he talks about Sanders in his speech.)

My favorite line of Jones: he was talking about you-know-who — the one who Twitters all night long and plays at being President during the week and then plays (for real) golf in Florida at his mansion each and every weekend.

"He’s not a liberal,” Jones said. “He’s not a conservative. He’s just a jackass.” How sweet it is to hear somebody telling it like it is with such style and grace.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Moon Over the Meadow at Sunrise



It is 7:14. The sun rose two minutes ago. Here is the moon over the meadow.

I like to begin my meditation before sunrise so I can feel the chi rising and passing through my body.

This morning, for some strange reason, I woke up at 4:48 a.m.

I KNOW WHY: MOONLIGHT WAS FLOODING THE BEDROOM! I stared and stared and watched as it and Venus passed through one window pane after another. I couldn't go back to sleep.

If you have been watching the night sky recently, you may have seen the moon not far from Venus.



Glorious.

I couldn't film Venus but I got seven seconds of the moon in the night sky! (Unfortunately I couldn't get the video to load.)

If you want to catch Venus, you have to do it before March 25th because it disappears from the night sky  after that.

Enough. Back to meditation.

Have a wonderful morning under this mysterious and miraculous sky!


Sunday, March 05, 2017

A Reader Writes

In response to Thursday's post, I received the email below from my friend Michael Symons. 
It reminded me why I write and take photos.

Dear Claudia,

What a hopeful message is contained in this blog.

Awakened at my usual 3 a.m. and the first thing I saw was this photo which reminded me of all the beauty that is still left in this world.

Anger is good if it is channeled into something constructive - something that deals with the cause of the anger.

I am reminded of the alleged last words of the labor activist, Joe Hill: "Don't mourn, organize!"

Look how things changed in just a few hours:

After being caught in a lie, Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself but now he is being pressured to take it another step further and just resign.

Whether he does or not, let us grasp onto the hope that he might and even if he doesn't, let's just awaken every day with that beautiful photo you posted. That's the kind of beauty that even Trump and his gang can't drag down into the mud.
I always keep the words of my favorite poet, John Keats in mind.

His poem, "Endymion," begins:

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever.
Its loveliness increases;
It will never pass into nothingness"

Beauty can be measured in the freedoms we have as well as what  we see outside our windows on a morning like this.  And neither Trump nor Bannon nor Miller nor Sessions  nor Conway can ever destroy that kind of beauty.

Sorry for going on and on but your blog got to me this morning.

Keep the faith,
Michael

Thursday, March 02, 2017

WRITING OUT OF ANGER -- AND DELIGHT


This is the view I woke up to.

I am posting this photo instead of writing the post that I had intended to write.

The post was going to be all of the names that people call HIM.

I collected names.

Then I realized that after I wrote the last post, I felt like I had been wrestling in the mud (or worse.) It took a while to shake the feeling.

Also, a friend and reader of this blog said to me the other day, "that last post, wow, you really have a ton of anger!"

Can I write about what is going on without anger? Should I? Anger is good sometimes, isn't it? Is it healthy to get angry and then stay angry, when HE and his minions are causing so much pain and turmoil in the world? Shouldn't I be writing about how his despicable decisions are going to hurt/kill millions of people?

(Consider for example what happens when people lose their health insurance. Millions will not get the care they need. People with serious illnesses will die.)

But does it help the situation to write about it in anger? What other way is there to write about it?

I haven't figured out answers to these questions. Until I do, I will (try) not to write about you know who.

I couldn't watch the speech the other night. I know I should have. It's my civic responsibility. But I just couldn't. As my husband watched in the living room, I lay in the bedroom with headphones on, listening to meditation music and reading a fantasy novel.

Recently, a woman I know told me that she was so upset about the vicious political debates swirling and flinging around on Facebook that she signed off the app... for good.

"You're not supposed to read something on Facebook and then feel like you want to jump off a bridge!"

How do you live/think/read/act/feel/write when the world feels like it's mired in...sh.. mud? I wish I could answer these questions.

xxxxxxxxx

(20 minutes later.)

AS I WAS WRITING THIS POST, THE WASHINGTON POST REPORTED:

"Top Republicans said Thursday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself from investigations of whether Russia interfered in the presidential 2016 election at the Justice Department and FBI.
"House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said during an appearance on MSNBC Thursday morning that Sessions should bow out to maintain “the trust of the American people.”
"Minutes later, House Oversight and Government Reform committee chairman Jason Chaffetz joined McCarthy’s call, tweeting that “AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself.”
"The calls from two of the House’s most prominent Republicans follow revelations that Sessions met with the Russian ambassador during election season. Under oath in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing in January, Sessions had said that he had not met with any Russian officials.
I AM NOT ANGRY, I AM DELIGHTED. So maybe that is how to write. 
IN DELIGHT.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Trump Adviser Lies, But Trump Followers Don't Care

I know that Dump and his minions lie through their teeth. But sometimes it's so off the wall that I have all I can do to read the stories. They make my stomach ache.

But today I read The Washington Post's story about Dump aide Stephen Miller, whose impassive face and deadly brown eyes make him look like a Nazi. (Ironically, he is Jewish.)



My husband says Miller looks a character from 1984.

Whatever, Miller is the monster who is responsible for Dump's executive order banning travel to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority nations. He also has written some of Dump's nastiest speeches.

On Sunday, he was asked by television host George Stephanopoulos about Dump's assertion that he lost the state of New Hampshire because of extensive voter fraud in that state.  Here is the story and the video.

The stomach ache started about half-way through the video so I shut it off. But not before Miller said that he knows NH has widespread voter fraud because he worked there. (Elsewhere, The Post ran a lengthy piece on how Miller, 31, came to the White House after a lifetime defending the right wing.)

It's scary to think how many lies balloon out of the White House each and every day.

But the scariest thing is that Dump has so many fans who don't seem to care that he lies. In fact, I suspect they relish the idea that the media works so hard to point out falsehoods by Dump and his slimy advisers.

Do any of Dump's followers read reputable newspapers, blogs or magazines? Do they get all of their news on Twitter, Facebook and Fox News?

Sigh. The harder reporters diligently try to pin down the liars, the more the sleazes lie. And their right-wing followers believe every word out of the Dump and his heartless staff.

None of this is new. But occasionally the fact that we have a bunch of blatant liars in the White House hits me in the head once again.

I don't know what to do with my anger and revulsion.

So I write about it.

But as I sit here, my stomach clenching,  my heart aching for all of the millions of innocent people (including children) hurt by the Dump White House, I wonder why I try.




Thursday, February 09, 2017

Go White Inside and Write

looking out the window into


white


white

branches layered
by

white
white

on days like
this one
you might
try if you want
to try do this:

sit down in a chair
and stare outdoors

watch the snow
fall and fall and fall
steadily
shifting
slanting
blowing
dancing
whirling
fluffing
howling
drifting
sifting

a fury
of white
ever down

watch

just
white.
just
white.
just watch.

maybe you start
to see
grey and
brown and
the palest
of greens
and the willows
muted gold

close your eyes
breathe
slowly
in white
out white
and
in
and out

go white inside
feel how that
feels to feel
white
see how that
looks behind
your eyes inside
your chest
and arms
and legs

do that for a
minute
or two
or ten

pay attention

and then
if you
feel
moved,
pick up a
pen a pencil
a marker
a paintbrush

and do whatever
makes you smile.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Where are the Birds?

It's been three long weeks since we hung the bird feeders.

People told us to expect it to take a few days, or a week, before birds would arrive.

A week went by.

A second week went by.

There was no sign of a bird. In fact there was no sign of a squirrel or a chipmunk either.

How could this be, when we live right next to a peaceful wetland, a beautiful meadow.

After two weeks, we moved the feeder -- with four bird houses, each one chock full of black oil sunflower seed and suet -- into the trees at the side of the yard.

A week went by. No birds.

We called friends and told them what was happening. Everyone said, "Wow how weird that is!"

Before we moved in, the builder had warned us that he had seen a bobcat with two cubs during the summer (so be careful with our puppy.)

I wasn't keen on the bobcat. But I started to wonder what was wrong when there were no squirrels or chipmunks or rabbits or deer or turkeys (we had a family of 25 turkeys at our rental house in Lenox.)

Except for a red-tailed hawk, there wasn't a single sighting of anything moving in the wetland.

Had we so disrupted the landscape building the house that animals were boycotting our land?

Finally, about 10 a.m. this morning, there was an explosion of birds:

A nuthatch.

Two goldfinches.

A blue jay.

Chicodees.

Oh, and at least one squirrel.

It's just taken a little bit longer than we expected for the forest creatures to arrive.

Mother Nature has her ways. I have to learn to be patient and accept them.




Sunday, January 22, 2017

Can We March Once a Month?

I wish.

Monthly would make perfect sense to women.


One of my very favorite signs, in Boston. 😎

OK, so maybe we can't rally once a month.

But we can translate the miraculous energy of this astonishing worldwide march into sustained resistance and political activism.




March on!

Friday, January 20, 2017

 Paintings and Prose by Artist Jeff Blum

"Anger Management"



This was my first true abstract painting.  I had just gotten very upsetting news.  My wife Ellen and I talked about it, but I was still steaming.  As it happened, I had my easel up and paint out. 

Meanwhile, I had recently been to the National Gallery of Art.  On the way to see paintings by Wayne Thiebaud, we passed through a room that featured mainly Jackson Pollock's work. 

So I just started painting, laying the pinkish-purple, whatever paint there was there, on the canvas – without a plan. I alternated between the blandness of the background and the boldness of the stripes (which some see as prison bars, though I don’t.)  Hard, angular strokes contrasted with rounded shapes and lines.

Since my anger had to do with action I didn’t understand by a loved one, I put in a question mark, then more, in odd directions.  Since I’m Jewish, I started inserting Hebrew letters that, together, follow a discussion with myself. 

Stepping back, I saw that, as I often do, I’d used a palette without adequate contrast.  So I started layering in the brighter colors.


I finished the painting in one session, about an hour and a half. At that point, I followed the advice I recalled from my teachers: “Know when to stop.”



"Cobb’s Barn, South Truro, inspired by Edward Hopper, 1931"

I started painting the summer after I retired from a 37-year career.  Nothing had been farther from my interests or expectations than painting.  My mother, then 92, didn’t really believe in “being taken care of" by her children, but I wanted to spend more time with her.  So I asked her to teach me how to paint, a hobby of hers as a young woman. She took up painting again more than 50 years later, in her 80’s. 

That summer of 2013, we started painting together while on vacation in Truro, on Cape Cod.  Our house there is not far from Edward Hopper’s, the place where he painted some beautiful land-and-seascapes.  

So he’s been an inspiration.

After being too intimidated to try watercolor – it seemed so unforgiving as a medium – I took a class. That led to multiple watercolors – the teacher suggested that you keep four or five going simultaneously, so you can work on one while another dries. 

I found a book of Hopper's work and decided to practice my new watercolor interest by working from it.  The first choice was a painting of a barn that is less than a mile from our house, if it still stands.  

Amazingly, it’s one that hangs in the Oval Office of former President Obama!  

I also took a class on “abstract representation,” from teacher Megan Hinton, a painter I admire greatly. She pushed us not to be so damn stuck on trying to reproduce what we saw; instead she encouraged us to try to  capture the spirit of a scene, to experiment with it. 

So there I was, trying to work from Hopper’s barn but not be bound by it.  I love his pale sky – at sunrise? -- in the original, contrasted with the dark barn.  But I also like the energy of my sky, even though it’s not really a color the sky gets to be (this is partly a result of not being patient enough at mixing colors and skillful enough to capture the way a sky fades from one color to the other; I'm working on that).  It too, I think, contrasts with the dark barn well.

In the gently rising and falling hill, grass, etc. I wonder about the very modest changes within the brown grass of the hillside and the blocky, bright-and-dark greens of the meadow or lawn. 

The curving red of the dirt in front of the barn seems unnatural to me.  But maybe it’s a reasonable way to capture the abstract quality of that part of the painting.