Thoughts in Isolation: 3

Art Journal, Self Reflection, Thoughts

Monday, May 4, 2020

Wow, where’d you come from Taryn? Up before noon? Breakfast? Laundry? Feeling ambitious? Making plans? Yeah… getting yourself on a med taking schedule is kicking in fast. Days. Who knows how many doses you were flaking out on. That’s life managing mental health. You can slip so easy. Especially during times of crisis. When everyone is giving themselves permission to eat ice cream for breakfast, it’s easy to let things go. Forgetting you need structures to keep anxiety and depression and at bay. Oops. But we have a lifetime of experience to draw from. And know when things are getting weird upstairs. Imagine all the people out there who are going into this new world completely unprepared for dealing with their crazy? Be gentle with them. They are fresh at this.

Friday May 8, 2020

It snowed. The Upper Peninsula is a magical world of winter and water. People are expressing further frustration from the oppressive feelings a spring snow rains down on their heads. I think it’s beautiful. I’m on track to cement in a habit of getting up before noon and taking my meds. Getting to bed is challenged by my discovery of a new author. I’m riding the sci-fi adventure genre. Six books deep. Second series. Will they survive?

Also murder hornets have taken over pop culture and FB arguments. Along with the “plandemic” video. Will the wonders of 2020 never cease??? I can watch the riptides of information, misinformation and spin spread across social media. Mostly, I feel like people just don’t understand their own psychology.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

I’m sick of people.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Today was a good day. Up before noon. A solid art session. A good breakfast. A walk. Went for a ride yesterday for supplies. Things are looking up inside my brain.

Thursday, May 12, 2020

I was thinking.

I was thinking about all the places and things I experienced over the winter. And I feel so fulfilled. I got the experience of long term traveling and the freedom to create art. And I did it. And I saw many of the places I dreamed about, and more.

What a generous Universe.

Now is the time for rest.

Next is the unfolding of the next gift. Mine is blessed life.

Friday, May 13, 2020

Getting art supplies in the era of Covid-19… one must lower their expectations dramatically. I’m exercising a level of patience I didn’t know I had. But then, it’s nice to slow down.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Being an adult is far overrated. I’m glad I grew up to be an artist.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The feeling of watching people leave. The moment of separation. Wether planned, after a visit, or after a fight… I find that peeling away of their presence excruciating. I don’t mean when they leave to go to the store, I mean when they leave and there’s going to be hours and days between you. That moment. That sick sinking moment when they walk away from you. Your last hug (or in some cases not) and you don’t know when you’ll feel their mass again.

Tonight I sleep alone. And even though it’s temporary and planned and necessary and he’s a phone call away… That moment of peeling away. That last hug. I need my human with me.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Spring took so long to get here. Then overnight the trees opened up their wells of green and life sprouts from the earth in multitudes. At night frogs chorus and whip-poor-wills break through. Moving through the night calling here and there. The dawn moves fast on the night, there’s barely a touch of night. People are restless here this time of year. I think it’s having so much daylight. It’s only dark for a little over seven hours.

And I prepare for yet another strange new disruption in my life.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

George Floyd. What terrors we’ve given power to. Little beasts with such ugly hearts to ignore the pleas of a fading man.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The country is on fire.

Michigan lifts the “Stay at home” order.

Thoughts in Isolation: 2

Art Journal, Self Reflection, Thoughts

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

I did not think I would experience any new emotions after posting the two week journal “Thoughts in Isolation.” I was wrong. Today. Today I ache inside. I am numb yet sad yet nauseous. I made a double batch of no-bake cookies after starting the last 15 pieces of the 100 Day Project. I feel weepy yet I don’t weep! I’m mad. I’m dissatisfied. I’m disappointed. From heart down to my stomach I feel bubbling emotions but I can’t identify them. They swirl and toss like a shipwreck. I’m relieved and angry. I’m sickened and disgusted. I’m empty. I’m a tempest.

Today people choked the capital of Michigan protesting governor Whitmer’s executive orders. They block emergency vehicles. They mingle. They are mad about seeds. Some of my Facebook friends support this. Most do not.

Today I skimmed Facebook trying to avoid all the conspiracy theories. I’m baffled by the ridiculous number of them. And everyone yelling at each other to “think for themselves.” I don’t know if I should be comforted by listening to an expert explain everywhere in the world comes up with conspiracies during outbreaks with convenient scapegoats particular to their corner of the world.

But what really breaks me is the normality of my Grandfather’s death amidst everything.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

I’m trying to wrap my heart around the grieving process for my grandfather but it all feels so distant. In a different time I would of driven the forty minutes to see my family immediately after I was told. In this world that seems irresponsible. So I stay home. I hope that my grandmother is safe. I hope no one in the flurry of activity carried the virus with them to my grieving family. I hope they were able to keep him comfortable in his last hours.

My grandfather was kindness where my home life was chaos. He fixed up an old banana seat bike and spray painted it dark green for me. Remedying my lack of bike riding knowledge. He taught me some doodles I can still draw. Tried to teach me a line or two of French. I went with him walking at the ice rink. And fishing.

Grandpa was flannels and suspenders. Mint chocolate. Tomato thieving. Chipmunk taming. Garage tinkering. He was full of games and riddles. He was a collection of hematite rocks. Old westerns and baseball. He was ritually painting the deck brown. I watched him give up his raspberry patch, his truck, his boat, his sight. He was wit and charm.

Most of all he was Grandpa. When I was confused by my father’s side of the family and reproached by his wife, Lucille, not to call her grandmother. This Grandfather never made that distinction. Even though most of us weren’t his by blood.

How do we mourn in this time of corona?

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Everyone is getting their chain yanked by someone in country. And everyone thinks they are the ones “thinking for themselves.” Everyone is at each others throats on social media. Guilty. How does something so simple as staying home to save lives become so politicized? I have questions.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Many members of my family have posted on social media about the passing of our Grandfather. I can’t do it. I cannot bring myself to deal with the societal etiquette of public condolences and public thanks.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

mitigation

social distancing

PPE

N95

corona

covid-19

ventilators

flattening the curve

Dr. Birx and Fauci

the scarf

Governor Coumo

fabric masks

Wuhan

isolation

quarantine

USS Comfort and Mercy

the cure cannot be worse than the disease

the invisible enemy

testing

false negatives/positives

supply chain

chloroquine

hot zone

that woman from Michigan

pandemic

Spanish Flu

1918

second wave

Chinese virus

contact tracing

exponential

two weeks

six feet

2%

0.1%

15%

asymptomatic carriers

shelter in place

So many words that have taken over our language in the last weeks and months. Our minds quickly pick up on and race away with a flurry of new vocabulary. Wielding them like knives against each other.

I wonder when life will feel normal. I guess society always fluxes. We never went back to pre- 9/11 life. We’ve been fighting that war since. I only knew the feeling of job and financial security during the last years of the Obama administration. Wiped away again by greed. Watching big businesses suck up bail outs while little micro-businesses are starved out. Watch them wink out one by one. Stranding families and once thriving communities.

The system only works by a thin thread of belief. There’s nothing real about the ant hill of capitalism. An engine that drives and consumes the planet for profit. But why? More electronic money. More. More. More. Not even paper anymore. Just numbers we believe in. To make our lives better? It’s NOT so! I witnessed two different America’s driving across this country. People living in towers overlooking people living in gutters.

What’s real? We have one life. Once it’s over… A company can be rebuilt. A country can recover from a recession or depression. We won’t get our people back if we send them off as sacrificial lambs for capitalism. No one needs a hair cut that badly. What we need is food, water, shelter and our tribe to be safe.

I’m just not willing to give up my mother, grandmother or husband because some people believe the economy is more important and some others believe the virus is a hoax.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

I was brutally awakened from a nap by a cascade of horns honking and a cacophony of dogs barking. When I tried to hush the dogs my husband yelled back “their having a parade.” Out here in the middle of the woods? with us as the only witness, they came out to their camp to have themselves a little birthday party for the wife. A nurse at a nearby hospital. Complete with children and the elderly. How sweet.

And…

The president suggested we disinfect our lungs. Inject cleaners.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

I’m getting weird about things. I’m closing in around myself. I’m not going out. Not looking to leave the house. I don’t want to talk to many people. I’m not accomplishing much. I don’t feel sad. I’m ok. I think? I miss the desert. I miss the road. Although I’m not afraid, the current events prey on latent fears. If that makes sense. The current isolation mimics the times from before I was on medication. When stores were the enemy. Strangers. Contact. An invisible barrier. I at that time was getting weird about going into stores I wasn’t familiar with. About talking to anyone. Leaving the house got troubling. And it’s like that now I’m feeling, but a different cause. And I’m distant from people the same way I was then. Not out of social anxiety, but because of social safety. But it feels emotionally the same. The difference now is that I have a partner to lean on. At my worst with the social anxiety I was alone.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

I’ve been thinking about my father and everything he’s missing. What would he make of this time? He was never one that could stand being still. He always wanted to go. How would he handle being asked to stay home? I cannot imagine it. I caught myself sitting in repose like him the other night. One arm swung over my head and fidgeting with the cuticles of my other hand. When I realized that was a piece of him inside my posture, I separated from space, time and body for a moment. Grief is like that, it comes at you like a freight train when you least expect it, years later. It’s him not seeing Star Wars or Dune. It’s not getting his opinion on politics. It’s walking through Family Video. It’s watching the places he once inhabited with his mass disappear from the world. Popping like little soap bubbles on a timeline.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

I have not been taking care of myself. My husband asked me to go for a walk with him today and I felt a bit of panic at leaving the house. This is not a good sign. I took a shower. Changed my clothes. And swept the floor. Tomorrow I will do more to be human. Oops. I’m not all the way down the rabbit hole yet.

Monday, May 4, 2020

I’m annoyed by my dry skin. I was scraping at it on my face with my finger nails. Now I have a scab on my nose where I went to far. I thought the doldrums I experienced in Death Valley were bad. That was just preparation. ‘Twas just a fng precursor. I’m thinking bangs. Perhaps I’ve watched enough Asian woman successfully give themselves bangs on YouTube to manage. Or at least I’ll have a few minutes entertainment before meltdown.

My lack of consistent schedule may have resulted in some medication dose misses. I’m hitting the anxiety jackpot. And since I’m not seeing anyone or interacting with anyone, I can only guess that the current feeling of mild terror about leaving the house is where my brain is putting all that anxious energy. Light feelings of agoraphobia are not new anxiety symptoms for me, it’s just been awhile since it’s been expressed this way. And not exactly surprising since we’ve been asked not to leave the house for over a month now.

So. I’m working on getting myself righted a little every day. I finished one big art project and I’m working through the other I have going. I’m not unhappy. So I have that. Just a bit… off kilter, but then so is everyone else as far as I can tell. We’re going to be alright, just a bit damaged. And heartbroken. With terrible bangs. And picked over skin.

Spring is here. Can you feel it’s renewing energy?

The Road: Part 8, The Long Road Home

Art Journal, Artistic Growth, Self Reflection, The Road, Thoughts

Monday, March 16: Harris Beach State Park, Oregon

I was approached on the beach by a middle age woman with the gift of gab and some painful ideas. She regurgitated ideas from memes like the virus would disappear one day and come back in ten years. I tried to keep my space and assist her in reality. My husband had his own conversation with a teacher where he learned that the local population holds beliefs about this being a part of God’s plan and the end times. There being excitement in the religious population to embrace current events and little desire to change habits.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020: Clear Lake State Park, California

The first night. We changed direction and pace to make our way home, traveling by mostly interstate instead of scenic backroads. We had to drive south to go east because a winter storm was sweeping through the Rocky Mountains, Plains and Midwest. We found this state park about an hour from where we stopped for supplies. Restaurants were starting to move to take out only by force in some places and by choice in others. It was dark and late when my phone, blue-toothed into the radio, blasted out the warning declaring a shelter-in-place order for Sonoma County. Then mid-morning a park employee accompanied by California Park Police came through to inform us they were closing the State Parks and to give us advice about where to try to stay.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020: Rabbit Island, California

Rabbit Island, a familiar camping spot for us in a National Forest, we stopped at before going to the Sequoia National Forest. Again we rolled in well after dark. And in the morning there were no cows to greet us. The news? Pennsylvania was shutting down rest stops. Someone else traveling from Florida to Michigan reported on Facebook finding hotels closing up behind and ahead of them. The Canadian/American border is closed to unnecessary travel.

Thursday, March 19, 2020: Mojave Desert Preserve, California

We stopped before dark. Finding resting spots on wild lands is too challenging after dark. Part of me was happy to see the desert again, but it wasn’t supposed to be this way. A spring rain storm swept through. In the morning President Trump announces closing the southern border and sending asylum seekers back to their countries. I weep for the cruelty.

Friday, March 20, 2020: Thirty Minutes Outside Kingman, Arizona

Supplies. We’ve carried minimum supplies. After the troubles in Death Valley I started stocking up on dry foods (that was traumatic, food deserts are real), but we still kept minimal dog food and paper supplies because of the minimal space. Now we cannot find toilet paper (three states later). Getting dog food and meds filled just over the Arizona border. Getting pet food. Errands take time, checking for toilet paper and some groceries while we wait for the scripts to fill.

Illinois under stay-at-home order beginning tomorrow at 5:00pm.

Made it about thirty minutes south of Kingman, Arizona. We originally planned to cross Arizona at Flagstaff, but that city was getting cold and snow so we are going the more southern route and swinging past Phoenix. Between Phoenix and Flagstaff are mountains and twisty roads we don’t want to get tangled in right now. I’ll get to say hello to the Saguaros for a brief moment.

Saturday, March 21, 2020: Navajo National Monument

Home is probably still snowed in. Can’t stay here. Can’t get there. One day at a time. Uncertainty rocks the world. Humanity is in crisis. May we walk through this fire and come out better for it. Here, now, communities rally together finding creative ways to support each other, while our governments make cruel decisions and we let them.

We traveled. Stopped in a small town for a couple staples, tried again for toilet paper: nope. Wanted to take a break from the road and reality by stopping at the Grand Canyon. There were more people than we anticipated and a young woman up on her soap box. She stood on a rock, all attitude in her cocked hip, yelling into her phone about the people not keeping six feet apart and everyone was going to die infecting her small village. Too much. When I realized she was filming, that’s when the panic attack set in. To be clear I was able to be there without being in anyone’s space. And it took some cognitive processing to manage it.

We headed SE on 64 (Desert View Dr.) into the Navajo Nation lands. All their roadside stands were vacant and scenic points closed.

We found a place to camp for the night just before sunset in the beautiful Navajo National Monument.

Sunday, March 22, 2020: Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

The night before we discussed staying a day or two to catch our breath, but in the morning (late morning) we both felt ready to go on. No sooner had I stepped out of the camper, then a park officer rolled up in his truck, decked out with a regular surgical mask, to inform me the park was closed and we had to leave. Not that it was closing, closed, note: there was no one to pay for the site last last night and the park was half full.

I’ve tempered my desires to stop for photographs in exchange for eating more pavement. This was harder driving through the harsh and beautiful Navajo lands of Arizona and New Mexico. Passing on Monument Valley and Shiprock. Along with local flavor like homemade signs; “I Eat Pilgrims” and “Tourist Go Home.” Also passed up (I believe) a Native mural depicting a face with respirator “Beware Covid-19.”

We thought we had found National Forest land to camp on twenty minutes outside of Taos, New Mexico. Found it gated and the road snowed in. I was tortured with the drive through Taos to get there. Knowing no matter how much I wanted to see the town, circumstances were out of my control.

New Mexico’s decision to close state parks became, clearly, more of a challenge than anticipated as the sun set. I made my husband pull over (despite his insistence the signs demanded a pass to park) to eat and stretch before we did this stretch of road in the dark (and hopefully find an easy place to stop for sleep off of I-25 or before. A rest stop, Cracker Barrel or Walmart would do.

Or… a wildlife refuge.

Monday, March 23, 2020: Stapleton, Nebraska

Morning came on slow and mild. The morning plan: north to Nebraska via Kansas to avoid the storm systems. Ever North and East.

Michigan, our destination: Stay Home, Stay Safe Order; in effect at midnight.

Rolled through the Kansas plains while the news cascaded on by the minute. What inevitable choices would our leaders make? I worry for us more now than I did after 9/11. As much as I’d dreamed of seeing this country and then maybe the world, now I want to curl up in the forgotten forests of the southern shores of Lake Superior. Where our winters are harsh, but the people are strong. Where the world can forget to send it’s problems and we can carry on.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020: Blue Mounds State Park, Minnesota

Home was closer, but still too far away. Woke up to a cloud of starlings filling the air and spring fields with sound. Word came that the road to our home was narrowly plowed with tall crusty snow banks. Two hard days of travel or linger and hope for a melt? Linger and what new developments would occur in the country? Linger and be subjected to unknown tides. Or go on?

Thank you Nebraska gas station, finally scavenged a roll of toilet paper. Situation critical. By this measure, Tuesday was a good day. By others, I don’t know. On this day the United States President switched his rhetoric from being a war time president to seeing churches packed for Easter and reopening the economy while we crossed the American heartland.

Drove by a rural bar in South Dakota with a full parking lot. What will history sound like?

We had made reservations for a campground in Minnesota. I was stoked upon arrival to check out the showers. I practically skipped over to the building, to find each door locked.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020: Blue Mounds State Park, Minnesota

A great long deep breath and stood still while the world turned.

Hoped to shower. Dashed.

Hoped to do laundry. Failed to rally the effort and energy.

My husband went to procure supplies from the nearby town while I could barely keep my eyes open. The other camper left. We saw many campers and RV’s on the road this week, more than we had seen moving before.

News: Wisconsin: “Safer at Home” went into effect for 30 days. Waiting for news on the governments passing the relief bill. India locked down.

Thursday, March 26, 2020: Home, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

We left the campground before sunrise. Drove through fog and drizzle, I reflected on the desert. A place still relatively wild and free because of its harsh climate, like home.

News: Minnesota “Stay at Home Order” ordered and in effect Friday, March 27. We passed a huddle of smokers outside a pretzel factory and saw people sitting down to eat at a gas station diner. News about New York grows worse daily. New Orleans. Georgia. Washington state. Florida. San Francisco.

Home. I know these roads and trees. For hours now I’ve known these roads. We are going to pass near where we bought the camper soon. (It is coming apart again). The snow banks are still high. The trees are small and grow densely together. Boreal Forest. 35 degrees. No cactus. No Border Patrol. No surreal landscapes. No starfish. No whale plumes. To reach a big metropolitan area one has to drive at least six hours. To reach a major city, eight to nine hours.

News: the United States has surpassed Italy and China in Covid-19 cases.

Update: after crawling across the snow bank with a cat in my arm and sliding down into the dark recesses of my cold dark home, I waited while my husband hit the switches on the circuit breaker. Heat and hot water would be mine soon. My cat wandered the dark rooms calling. Light! Glorious light. Which dimmed… and flicked and died away. We are back in the camper for the night. Dreams of long hot showers without pressing buttons every thirty seconds will have to wait on the power company.

Essay: Understanding

Art Journal, Artistic Growth, Self Reflection, Thoughts

If you have followed along this far I’m sure it is clear I struggle with my identity as an artist. I’m using both my time traveling across country since October 30th and the 100 Day Project to focus on developing my artistic voice and understanding my motivations. And along the way completely muddling up my website. Your welcome reader.

Today I had a breakthrough. It started two days ago really. I posted a piece of bird wing on Instagram. At first I was going to stop myself out of fear of losing my audience. Instead I went ahead. I decided I need to be authentically me and that includes sharing my inner world. I added a caption about how I saw beauty in life cycles.

That started it, but I didn’t know it.

I’ve been reading books about artists, following art blogs, going to galleries, museums and listening to art related podcasts. You know, immersing myself. Out of this came the idea that there is a thread in my life, specific to my experiences that can inform my work. Other artists could point to childhood memories that easily intertwined with their adult artworks.

I just could not see it.

I always felt like I had to make a choice. And each choice would be leaving behind an aspect of creating that I enjoyed. If I chose painting, I’d have to let go of blockprinting. If I chose drawing I’d never paint. If I did trees, I couldn’t do animals. If I tried a new medium it wouldn’t fit with the rest of my work.

I was missing what my work has been about entirely.

Entirely.

From dead trees, ravens, crows, up-cycling, cats, decaying buildings, dying saguaros, desert vistas, water, spiral symbols, animal bones, skulls, gardening, seasons, the mysteries of world religions, even attention to textures and certain aspects of Japanese culture it’s been about life cycles. And importantly life out of death.

But why?

Perhaps because the day I was born, October 30 (the same day we departed) was the one year anniversary of my Grandmother’s murder. I grew up with that as the dinner conversation for years. My father never got over it. My aunt wrote a fictionalized book inspired by it (absolutely worth reading: available here!). I’d say it was the single most defining event of my childhood.

Then during my twenties, when I most needed to lean on my father for support to go back to school, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He made poor life decisions, leaned on me, and I spent five years watching him die slowly before the real end when I watched him suffer for weeks and eternal days. He didn’t know where he was, let alone who I was. I had a complicated relationship with my Father. It took time to understand his imperfect humanity. When the time comes to say your final goodbyes to a parent or someone with a terminal illness, you too will find complex feelings hidden away to deal with.

After that I chose to work in home health for two years and a nursing home for over four years. (After college I felt no inspiration to do art, until the ink doodles started compulsively taking over and I couldn’t ignore my creative needs anymore). I wanted to give to others the peace I had from knowing my father was cared for. Being close to death was somehow being close to my father. Giving comfort and kindness to the sick and dying was giving it to him, in a way.

For a long time, unconsciously, my art work has been about life after death. Life from death. Beauty in death. I just didn’t know it. I don’t need to change what I’m doing. I just needed to understand it. I can accept and embrace the materials, media and subjects that speak to me. And know I’m giving something to the world uniquely mine that I can be proud of.

Essay: Letting Go

Art Journal, Self Reflection, Thoughts

I’m in the middle of re-learning a life lesson about letting people go right out of my life who, when it comes down to it, are not adding value and quality to my existence. Invest in those who want to invest in you, right? Today a memory has come crawling out of the cobwebbed corner of my brain to resurface. It is time to share this tale and how it’s lessons relate to my art life. Gather round…

I have a sister. A partial sister. An older sister, eight years older. We share the same father. And for a short time she lived with us when I was a child of four or five. I’ll not name her and she doesn’t share my last name. She. She never could be nice to me for more than a few hours it seems. Her visits were few and far between. And I was always so excited to see her, this exotic woman from the west coast with colored hair and a musical voice. Yes she went to school on her voice and sometimes when she visited she’d sing, but not if I asked. How I just wanted a sisterly bond with her. Tragically I will seek that missing bond in all my female friendships (hint: I won’t find it, it is never there).

Years go on and I live my life in Michigan and She lives hers on the West Coast. I’ll try to reach out to her and it’ll fail. When our father becomes ill She comes to visit. Each visit is more contentious than the last. Once we had to be in a car for nine hours together to see our father who was flown to another hospital. I am surprised we made it. When I told her about going to college for fine art her retort was “what are you trying to prove.” I’ve been criticized for being too negative. Told even if I was the taller, my hips were wider. I had a crisis on my first trip by myself when I had everything stolen, She happened to live somewhat near, I asked advice and got “what do you want from me.” Well, we didn’t talk much. Years at a time go by so…

Imagine a beautiful perfect summer morning. I’m on my deck drinking coffee. I have finally adopted a group of artist friends. I have finally started making art again (about ten years out from art school). I am selling work. I am curating shows and doing social media promotions for this artist collective and for myself. This is huge for me. And my sister sends me a message after a year of no contact telling me I’m appropriating her Mother and Step-Father’s Art.

I didn’t mention they are all artists? Established artists, I had to look them up after the confrontation. Two very talented artists with rocking careers that have nothing to worry about from me.

That’s because I’ve never met them and it is so far outside of my reality that I needed that part of the story to kick you in the head the way that day kicked me in the head.

It was a long day. At the end of it I said my piece and severed all ties with my Sister. I have tended in my life to allow people to wipe their feet on me. I have allowed myself to be in borderline abusive relationships. I knowingly allowed myself to be used and conned.

However, attacking my art practice hit a nerve that I didn’t know I had. See, art is my god, worship and meditation. It has saved me from myself over and over. I’m afraid of where I’d be in life without creativity.

I have not missed my sister. She was never there.

It would be a long long long time later that I would realize with dismay the what ifs. What if my sister liked me? She may have had it in her power to introduce me to established artists, galleries and other art world gatekeepers. It never occurred to me all the people they could be connected to. It does now, perversely.

Oh well.

I’d rather have my small art practice and healthy boundaries. And remember to let people go that don’t want to be here and that are not enriching my journey.

The Road: Part 5.2

Art Journal, The Road, Thoughts


Arivaca

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After Tucson we headed closer to the border with Mexico, again, staying in the small town of Arivaca, Arizona. When visiting the town center, I noticed immediately a small building with hand-painted signs: Humanitarian Aid Office. Being the curious human I am I had to ask them about their mission. I was informed that migrants come across asking for water and there was a legal case brought against someone for giving them water (since dismissed). But there was a bigger mission. They assist local ranchers dealing with the newly “militarized border.” The person I spoke with mentioned ranchers dealing with the Border Patrol landing helicopters on their land. Of course I asked about the wall and if the crime rate justified it. This person didn’t blink, they 100% wanted a wall, but added that was just their opinion and the local people were just getting swept up into the politics.

One has to recognize the prism of local issues at play. As we were exploring the area we discovered ranches that allowed the public onto their land. One asked us to sign in and use a tag another asked people only walk in. One posted no Border Patrol ORVs and no militia. The restaurant we ate at posted a sign saying vigilante and border militia groups not welcome. The website I found for the Tohono O’ddham Nation reservation made it very clear they were against a border wall on their land. And not so far away is the area reportedly being cleared of ancient cactus to make way for border wall.

Please go to the Humanitarian Aid Web Site for a far better explanation of the situation in the borderlands.

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Humanitarian Aid Office, Arivaca, Arizona
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Jake local celebrity, of Arivaca

Kitt Peak Observatory

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Observatory Structure at Kitt Peak

Setting ourselves out on a different pace, we had a place to be and a time to be there. We drove the nearly desolate two hours from the small town we were staying at to visit the Kitt Peak Observatory for a four hour nighttime star gazing program. Up the switchback mountain road we drove into the crisp air of the sky island. Upon our arrival the staff directed us to park in a specific spot, everyone lining up facing the same direction.

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Tour Group watching Sunset

We were informed, fed, toured, given red flashlights. Warned to point them down, to protect the science. First we watched the sunset while the observatories opened unexpectedly to the sky by scientists working remotely. As the dark descended went up the stairs into an open top observatory with a 16″ telescope and looked into the past. I saw with my eyes another galaxy (The Andromeda Galaxy), star clusters, and other wonders. (You can see and read the blogs from the night of our visit. Lorelie, Robert (our Guide) and Fred. ).

They prepared our vehicles for departure by covering our headlights with red plastic and then signaled us to start our vehicles together and descend the mountain in a caravan lead by the Observatory staff. All to protect the science. No phones. No errant lights. No photography after dark. Nearly fifty people working together to respect the delicate work of the scientists.

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Sunset on Kitt Peak

Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge

It is all about the Masked Bobwhite Quail at the Buenos Aires Refuge. They have them penned up, but good luck seeing the quick little… Anyway. The visitor center is in a beautiful old ranch house looking out over golden grasses and mountain horizons, with opportunities to bird watch and a nice display of cacti.

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Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge

Tohono O’odham Nation

While visiting the Kitt Peak Observatory I read about the Tohono O’dham Nation, which the Observatory sits on their land. There were these beautiful baskets made from traditional materials and then there were tiny little baskets made from horse hair and other materials. Repeating throughout the artworks on display was the Man in the Maze.

So moved was I by the the craftsmanship of the basketmakers and the symbolism of the Man in the Maze I wanted to know more about the people. We visited the Tohono O’odham Nation Cultural Center and Museum. 10,000 years their people lived on this land with the desert. I learned a little more about how they lived prior to western influence and their involvement in the conflicts since. There were also on display some fantastic artists: painter Delia Velasco, block print artist Keith Norris and weaver Arlene Thomas were the three that really stood out to me. Sorry no photos! And I respected that. So I will describe them for you.

Delia Velasco:

Her piece was a large mixed media painting in earthy tones of rust red and yellow dripping at times like a wild watercolor, layered around the symbolic elements. In the upper left hand corner the suggestion of a saguaro silhouette is visible. The most striking element is the repeated Man in the Maze in the composition. A 1/4 circle of the Maze fills almost half the canvas, it’s epicenter the lower left corner.

Keith Norris:

Norris’s work was a block print of four figures walking the land titled: “Getting Home.” One female figure in a skirt carrying a pot on her head, a smaller male figure carrying sticks, a smaller figure in a skirt, a male figure with something strapped to his back, and all using walking sticks. The bottom third of the print are the figures, two hills and vegetation detail. The top 3/4 is filled with a radiating sun patten that feels like hope, heat, and sunshine.

Arlene Thomas:

Thomas crafted a miniature Man-in-the-Maze basket out of horsehair. It is slightly bigger than a coin, the label is bigger and it is completely dwarfed by its companions. Each line of the Maze is balanced to the scale and elegantly executed. If you cannot tell, I am absolutely thunderstruck by the craftsmanship.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The good, the bad, and the ugly. We were trying for Phoenix and didn’t make it. This beautiful spectacular failure went from we’ll stay one night to three. The drive in on 85 was spectacular. The sun set on a magestic jagged red mountain backdrop with the teaming desert landscape in the foreground. The first morning after our arrival I met the resident Raven lovebirds who posed for me on the campground saguaros. Thank you ravens!

We drove a loop through the park on one end enjoying the day and viewing the cholla, saguaro, and organ pipe cacti in all their various forms. Met a couple people plein air painting.

On the last day we drove the loop that went alongside the border wall where reports in the media were made of the saguaro’s being destroyed to make way for the new border wall. What I saw were some brush piles of willow and cacti marked. I did come across one saguaro that was in the process of being cut down. Access to some roads are blocked because of the border wall construction.

Saguaro Landscape

Phoenix

Costa’s Hummingbird

I just wanted to stop to see one exhibit… my husband signed us up for nine days? ten days? Two different campgrounds. The thing is we didn’t do much during this time. We took two drives. One on a back road that went through a hot-springs business with palm trees in the middle of nowhere and another on a quest to find a business that might sell cow skulls in Yarnell, which did not end up existing anymore. I was delighted by the wild donkeys, hated the suburban sprawl of Phoenix, baffled by a lake lined with saguaros, and beyond irked with the airplanes circling our second campground choice. We went into a grocery store that sold luxury spirits and cigars. In this high rent area all the brands were mercifully subdued, I wish the whole world could throttle consumer culture this way. And we made it to the Phoenix Museum of Art to see the Ansel Adams exhibit. Mostly we just enjoyed the subtle warmth of the January desert and caught up on the things that have been tickling our brains.

Sunset McDowell Regional Park
Black Throated Sparrow
Curve Billed Thrasher
Donkeys at Lake Pleasant Regional Park
Harsh Light on a back road.
Dying Saguaro.

Escaping Flagstaff

Snow. Cold. Bailed on our plans for north Arizona. Knew it was going wrong when we started climbing in elevation and never went back down. After a night in a Cracker Barrel parking lot we drove west on the old Route 66 towards Oatman. Now if you haven’t experienced the Oatman highway… prepare yourself. I mean, maybe a lot of people are used to mountain roads. But this one makes worldwide lists. Once you cram your stomach back where it belongs and unclench every muscle in your body you’ll be treated to wild donkeys hanging out in the streets of Oatman. Really. And so many people all of a sudden. We camped well outside of the town. And would you believe you don’t have to set an alarm? Donkeys will come by at six in the morning and take care of that.

Goodbye for now Arizona…

Sunbather
Scenic and terrifying Oatman Rd.
Cholla chunk

Essay: Mental Health and the Artist

Art Journal, Self Reflection, Thoughts

I asked a non-artist friend about their trip to the Met in New York, about their favorite artworks they saw; Van Gogh because of both his art and his mental health.

Of course.

It’s such a trope to correlate artists with poor mental health (not that my friend was doing this). I’ve read so many articles online of people in the art world trying to re-educate with the idea (the truth) that artists are not only not crazy, but also don’t have to starve (which is a different topic). Hot tip: artists are people. People accumalate damage. A good way to deal with that is by self expression: the arts. I strongly encourage anyone struggling with their head to try it.

I, like a great many people (both artists and non-artist), have struggled with my mental health. I still do. I clawed my way out of the worst of it by listening to other people describe what they were experiencing. From this I strongly believe that sharing my own story may help someone else through the dark (What does that have to do with being an artist? I’ll get there).

Overshare Warning: I’m going to tell you about me, a lot about me.

I once said something to the effect of our family being abnormal to my Father and he quickly corrected me. Our family was perfectly normal to him. I realize normality is subjective, but in this case normal is living with parents who are mentally stable, sober and supportive. I barely knew anyone on my Father’s side of the family and there was reason for that. A year before I was born my Grandmother was murdered and the residual anger settled in my Father for most of my early life.

I grew up the child of an angry withdrawn alcoholic. Papers came home from school telling my mother I was having trouble with math and showing signs of Dyslexia. I was a hyper child, prone to being impulsive. I had a horrible time learning to read. Analog clocks baffled me.

My mother doing her best (Mom I love you) did not seek help for anything I was having trouble with. Instead, fearing my father, I found work-arounds for all the things I couldn’t understand. I withdrew. To pay attention I learned to doodle on everything. The times failing that and I fell behind I’d sit down with the material and teach myself the text for tests. I couldn’t read the board they said my eyes were fine. I couldn’t handle distractions in the classroom. I got frustrated in a math class with a special needs student because I couldn’t focus past their tutor to get the lesson.

I was the target of bullying which by the time I got to junior high/high school I refused to put up with it. I couldn’t stand being in front of the class. Walking in front of people. People looking at me. I avoided having to do anything that required being in front of the class. Sometimes I just put my head down and cried. I felt like I was always the joke, sometimes I was (children and teens smell blood). On the weekends I slept. I’d sleep in for as long as it took to avoid my father. And I turned to art, which long fascinated me, but I could disappear in it. It’s going to be hard to say, hard to read. I had suicidal thoughts then. I felt worthless. I wanted to not be.

My home life deteriorated completely after I turned sixteen. My parents bought a bar. They fought. My mother became a different person. I was angry. A lot happened to me between sixteen to twenty-some years old. I tried to go to college and dropped out. The years were fuzzy. I made poor life decisions. Things happened that cannot un-happen. I accumulated more trauma, some from my own decisions.

It was my return to college I want to get to. I was sitting in my 3-D animation class and the professor wanted us to present our project to the class. IN. FRONT. OF. THE. CLASS. I wasn’t happy with my project, but I didn’t know how to ask for help. I never asked for help with any of the complex Adobe programs I was learning. I was just happy it animated. I don’t even know how I made it happen (remember finding work arounds for what I don’t understand). One by one each student was presenting their animation and they were all so good. I couldn’t breath. The walls were caving in on me. My vision was going tunnel like and the dark room was getting darker. My heart was pounding. THE WALLS WERE COMING FOR ME. I ran. I took my stuff and booked it out of there in a pure panic. That was how I was living. Going to class, going to work, speaking to someone I didn’t know, and even shopping brought on symptoms. But I didn’t know what was going on. On this day that I left class I did try to get help for the first time. I went to the student health something or another. I’m sure I was a mass of sloppy wet emotions. I always am when I try to ask for help. They said bipolar and wanted me to see a doctor.

I slept through that appointment. Because that was something else I did well. Sleep. Sleep through classes. Sleep through jury duty (got a nasty phone call informing me about those repercussions). Wake up to my boss asking me when I was going to come in to work (a pattern).

I didn’t get help then. It’ll be a few more years.

It’ll be when a friend of mine tells me about anxiety. And another friend makes me an appointment and I sit outside for an hour crying and shaking only to have the worst doctor ever. Then another friend recommends a doctor who is kind and gets me on some meds after an hour conversation in which I am a weepy mass of emotions triggered by talking about myself. I get treated for anxiety, more specifically social anxiety.

…and very slowly the clouds over my life lift. I notice the panic fight or flight feelings I feel just leaving the house lift. I can hold conversations with strangers and shop in new stores. I could make decisions. I was depressed most of my life and that also lifted.

Coming back around to tie this into a tidy bow, I realized when my friend said she liked the Van Gogh, that I may have freed myself to pursue art by getting help with my mental health. While pursuing my degree I was paralyzed to show my work despite the many opportunities, and now that the fog is lifted I am not afraid to pursue my goals. I’ve only been actively setting up my life as an artist for the last four years.

Mental Health is not an end goal it is a lifelong work in progress. Understanding and treating my brain for social anxiety is a game changer for me, I also have some other “stuff” going on in there that I’d like to eventually try to understand more about; from trauma, to being the adult child of an alcoholic, to possible attention issues (see the end results of my cars, funny and not funny: I could die). Mostly I want to keep this mental health freedom I have going, I don’t want to go back. I prefer not being trapped by my brain in a panic state.

Feel free to share your thoughts or stories in the comments. Everyone has pain, and everyone can be a light in the dark for someone else.

Thoughts from the Road: Part 5.1

Art Journal, The Road, Thoughts

Arizona

The southeast corner of Arizona leans into New Mexico as one land. There is no river or natural boundary to exclaim a new State of the Union. As muddled as the line was, so were we in deciding our destination. Where do we stay here? What do we see here? Earlier we had a clear idea in purpose: go south, if something interested us on the way we’d stop, and we were definitely seeing New Orleans. Then the Texas State Parks were interesting in themselves. New Mexico was easy. Arizona a mystery to be solved. (And we were not going north to the Grand Canyon).

Cochise County

White Water Draw

Our first stay was with the birds. From the time we arrived until we left, we were bathed in the electricity of thousands of Sandhill Cranes calling. First thing in the morning there were (I hope) cannon shots to scare the birds off of crops. Yes. Crops. The area is hopping in agriculture and Sandhill Cranes.

In the afternoon we watched the cranes return by the dozens. At one time something startled them across the lake and hundreds of cranes took flight at the same time. Crying their displeasure.

Sandhill Cranes, Whitewater Draw, Arizona

Erie St. & Bisbee

Erie St. classic cars, Lowell, Arizona
Abandoned Lowell, Arizona

We settled for the week of Christmas outside of Bisbee in a quiet RV park. The first evening we ventured out for a meal and found Erie St., Lowell. The semi-ghost town left after the pit mine swallowed the residential area. Today it is set up with classic cars lining Erie street. When you wander in you don’t know what exactly is going on. A mostly empty town with interesting facades, original gas pumps, and classic cars lining the streets. You are transported in time. Then we read the article that the end is coming January 1, 2020 for the cars because of a couple people who want to be able to park. I say put in place a new ordinance for Erie St. and only classic cars can enter. Preserve the nostalgic magic.

Bisbee is fly tape for artists. It has a colorful history. Colorful buildings. Colorful businesses. Colorful People. Galleries for everyone. Street murals. A Free Store where items are left outside in an abandoned graffitied lot and other people go shopping. I purchased killer bee honey from a tiny little shop with a fast taking woman in a cowboy hat. There was a seance house and a brewery in the old stock exchange building with relics from the early 1900’s era it was built.

Back Roads

We drove so many dusty back roads they are tangled in my brain. There was High Lonesome a straight, but treacherous road that followed an old rail line since relived of its rails. There was also Geronimo Trail with no apparent public access to Skeleton Canyon where Geronimo surrendered: we tried. There was Ghost Town Trail with long abandoned Courtland and other near abandoned towns.

Tuscon

Saguaros

Cacti. Cacti. Cacti. There are so many saguaros soaring, barreling towards the sky. You think desert. Empty and devoid of life. That’s not so. There is so much life. So much. I photographed the saguaros in every shape and form I could. Little to ancient to skeleton. Some looked ready to fight. Others swaying to the rhythms of an unheard music. One arm. A dozen arms. No arms. They are a magical life form. I thought of them as old men in the desert.

Old Tucson Studios

A fairy tale western town with cowboys and can-can dancers. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood walked there. Movies like Tombstone and Three Amigos were filmed there. Movies are still filmed there. You walk through the entrance and are adrift in the movie version of a nineteenth century western town. Stage coaches ride through. People are dressed up and in character.

Biosphere 2

A campus in the desert straight out of science fiction… except it is real life. Paid for by a billionaire philanthropist with an interest in science and now donated to the University of Arizona to continue experiments (after a hiatus when it lived merely as a tourist attraction). We weren’t even able to tour the rain forest area because they were putting it through a drought with sensitive measurements being taken and perfumes could throw the numbers.

Biosphere 2 campus

The tour was interesting enough, focusing on the the campus. They didn’t get into the social instability of the two groups of people they locked in for two years at a time. Seriously. People are not meant for that close of contact for that long. They didn’t mention Steve Bannon’s role during the second team’s term, or the break in. No one explained the deep royal purple carpet (that was replaced but visible on spiral staircases and in videos). A big mystery in interior decorating.

University of Arizona: Center for Creative Photography

I brought my husband to the Light exhibit at the Center for Creative Photography considering his new enthusiasm for photography. (I highly recommend traveling with someone whom you can share the joy of your interests). We were able to look through flat files of photographs (what?!? yes!) on display as well as books.

Light was the highly influential gallery dedicated to photographers. Artists like Ansel Adams were associated with Light. The first thing you see at this exhibit is a web of artist names tangled together by their involvement with Light. Light promoted photography the same as fine art.

Signal Hill

This is of those times you need to let yours eyes adjust. At first we didn’t notice anything and took the steps to the top of the hill with everyone else. Once at the top the petroglyphs popped off the rocks. How could you miss that? On the way back down we began to notice they were visible from the path the entire time. A quick, but fascinating visit. I’m hooked on seeing more petroglyphs.

Petroglyphs at Signal Hill, Arizona
Petroglyphs at Signal Hill, Arizona

Mt. Lemmon

We drove up Mt. Lemmon listening to the informative app put together by the Arizona State University. Sky Islands. This is what sticks with me the most. As you drive up in elevation the saguaros disappear and the pines slowly appear and get bigger with the heavier precipitation, and they call these desert mountains sky islands because of this. In the desert below the sun was hot even on a tolerable 70 degree day and at the top I was walking through snow in my sandals.

Come back for Arizona Thoughts From the Road 5.2

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Social Media For the Artist: A Personal Campaign of Learning or Sharing Tools

Art Journal, Artistic Growth, process, Thoughts

In this age no business can ignore the uses of the internet and social media. I don’t believe artists should either. They would be leaving too much free knowledge on the table. I began using social media for promoting my art work about four years ago, around the same time I decided to get serious about creating and thrusting my work into the world. I’ve had my frustrations and trials with different social media venues and how to make them work for me. There was this grand time when everything was chronological and everyone was happy. Then they started with the bedeviled algorithms. I came into the game after those.

Instagram:

Instagram is the big one for artists. (Your welcome, your friend Captain Obvious). How do you grow your audience without playing the games or joining a pod? (A pod for those of us not in the know is a group of people who get together and pledge to like and comment on each others posts. You can find them somehow on Reddit.) The games I refer to are liking a bunch of accounts hoping some will like you back and then deleting them a few days later. Or the ones who create ghost accounts. Some people have a lot of time. And now you know why your numbers randomly drop. You were followed by ghost accounts and/or accounts that were playing a numbers game. And who knows what other reasons.

What am I doing? I’m not getting thousands of followers. But I am getting genuine engagements and slowly growing my audience. Does this matter?

  • Art Sales: People reach out when they see something they love. The more people I’m reaching the more potential for this to happen.
  • Driving Traffic Back to my website: I’m Building towards this. I want to make it easy for people to find it and go there.
  • Instagram Stories: Many artists use these to effectively show behind the scenes of their work. Artists Brook Shaden and April South-Olson use their stories effectively this way. Lately I’ve been showing vignettes from my travels and things that interest me.

What am I doing?

  • Frequency of posting
    • This does seem to impact engagement…
    • I post every day
    • Friday and Saturday have less engagement, I still post
    • There are apps to assist with scheduling posting, I enjoy putting it out in real time.
  • Using hashtags.
    • Liking other peoples posts that use the same hashtags I’m using. Commenting. Engaging with them. This often results in solid follows and I follow back.
    • Check out other hashtags. People follow hashtags. Explore your options.
    • Create your own hashtag. I used my name. No one has my name. Now all of my posts are searchable under my name. I learned about this from following marketers on LinkedIn. (More about that later).
  • Likes
    • When a new account likes my post I check out their account in return. This organic engagement also results in new follows and follow backs.
    • I continue to make sure I’m supporting my followers by liking and commenting on their posts. Especially artists. These engagements are so important to us and help us reach our audience thanks to the algorithms. Think of the algorithm as a fog, and the engagement as a way of clearing up that fog for our work to be seen.
  • Location
    • I started putting my location in as well because people search by location.
  • Tagging Instagram Photos
    • If you tag them, they’ll show up under another account. Another way to be visible.
    • I just tagged my most recent post with Kitt Peak National Observatory
  • The Facebook Link
    • I have my Instagram linked to my Facebook Page, two for one posting
    • I don’t worry about having different content. They are generally a different audience.
  • Who am I following?
    • Big Galleries
    • Small Galleries
    • Call for art #
    • Gallery #
    • art gallery #
    • Michigan artist #
    • Art Critics
    • Artists
    • Accounts I engage with
    • Friends

Facebook

Love it or hate it our friends and family are there. I set up a separate page for my art at the start. I don’t know if that was for the best or not. I have 400 followers and less than 100 see an average post. This is why engagement matters and means so much. When 6 out of 100 people like that post no one new sees it and FB offers me the chance to pay for people to see it. Do you want to turn to give aways and gimmicks? For now I’m letting it ride.

How do I use Facebook:

  • I engage with everyone who comments. I like their comment and try to comment back.
  • I shamelessly like my own post. I do this on Instagram too. Something I’ve learned from LinkedIn.
  • If I put the location in correctly in Instagram it’ll tag the correct FB page when it posts. More than once I’ve had a reposts from places we’ve been enjoying my photos. Which lead to growing my audience.
  • I also try to support my artist friends on FB. We are all just trying to make our work visible.

LinkedIn:

Undervalued Asset that I am diving into.

How am I using it:

  • LinkedIn is a digital business card: My information is complete and up to date.
  • I post my blogs and other content. I’m still feeling it out, so far I’m learning more from following people than getting engagement back.
  • Follow, connect, engage with professionals.
    • Who? For me I’m interested in people I can learn from:
      • Gallery Owners
      • Artists
      • Art Critics
      • Art Directors
      • Marketers
      • Digital Marketers
      • Brand Strategists
      • Artist Mentors
      • Art Managers
      • Gallery Curators
      • Job Recruiters
      • Kristy Bonner… incredible content for anyone
  • I just recently started feeling out LinkedIn as more of a resource. And there are professionals on there foaming at the mouth to connect with others. Sharing brilliant information. You just have to be willing to block a few shirtless men and bitcoin miners who want to send you private messages.
  • LinkedIn Learning: They also have courses. In whatever interests you. If you are lucky you can nab one for free as they come along. Or, you can do the free month trial. The ones I’ve watched were great.

Pinterest

Pinterest has fallen by the wayside for me. I did enjoy collecting images and ideas. Once they started advertising I stopped visiting. At one time I was inserting images of my art onto my boards to see if they generated any sales on Etsy or lead back to my website. They did make it onto some boards. No sales. Something I experimented with, but wasn’t for me.

Twitter

I do not use twitter for art. I attempted. It went nowhere. I made one artist contact through Twitter. They periodically take commissions amidst their political comments. This works for them. But they also have thousands of followers. I had 22. I have since connected with them on Instagram.

Tik Tok

Word on LinkedIn from the Digital Marketers is this is it right now. Get on board. I don’t know how for a 2-D visual artist…

Blog

The blog is a way to collect my thoughts together in an accountable way I wouldn’t otherwise do.

The blog can be shared on LinkedIn, on Facebook, in different Facebook groups, Instagram, and email.

A blog doesn’t have to be complex. It is whatever you want it to be. But it is your content to share to your social media to bring back to your website. Your original content.

Other

It’s important to continue to test the waters of new platforms. They may not work out. I’m going to tell us all right now sticking with Facebook and Instagram because that’s where everyone is now, is not going to serve us. Artists go to the roads less traveled. They go were the neighborhoods are less hip and make them hip. Why would it be any different for us online?

Thoughts from The Road: Part 4

Art Journal, The Road, Thoughts

New Mexico

New Mexico merges with Texas’s plains on the east. As you enter from the Texas Panhandle the grasses grow sparser and so do the people. Whatever road we were on, once we left the border town there were miles of ranch fences, but no houses and no other signs of habitation other than a few steer munching on the scant vegetation. In the distance some mesas popped up and disappeared.

We were greeted by an abandoned church in Taiban, New Mexico. A local landmark well documented on instagram by photographers and travelers. Inside people left prayers and messages on the walls alongside graffiti.

Bottomless Lakes State Park & Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge

Outside of the alien mecca of Roswell, New Mexico the landscape rolls into wetlands. Wetlands? New Mexico is full of wonderful surprises hidden in the crevasses of the treeless vistas. We drove into the park along lake littered roads on one side and grassy cliffs on the other. During our stay we walked the wetland boardwalk at sunset. We admired the hundreds of birds on the scenic of drive at the Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Unknown to us we would have to kennel our dogs at the park and provide proof of rabbies. As consolation prize we drove the scenic one-way gravel road (and had it all to ourselves). Maybe not the main event, but still breathtakingly beautiful.

Cloudcroft, New Mexico

One of New Mexico’s great surprises for us. We drove to Artesia and cut across New Mexico west on 82 (pro tip: fuel up first). First the land was desert and then it rose into swelling hills with spare vegetation. As we climbed in elevation the hills grew sharper and the vegetation turned to scrubby bushes and then spare trees. Then suddenly we were in full on pine forested mountains in the middle of southern New Mexico with snow. Complete with snowplow warnings, elk warnings, a ski hill, and an old west style town named Cloudcroft with stunning mountain vistas as you left town on the west end.

In Cloudcroft we found a small gallery just off of the main street. In the gallery Off the Beaten Path I met Rafferty, a silver classic long haired tabby they rescued from the streets (not for petting only greetings). At the time they were working on finding homes for fifteen other street cats. Because of course, I found the artists in town with a passion for not just saving cats, but breaking the cycle by spaying and neutering the cats. Check out the gallery web site.

White Sands National Monument

From Cloudcroft you can see White Sands in the distance, and to the unbeknownst traveler you think you are seeing clouds. White Sands is a people catcher like the Bean of Chicago is. Everywhere people lined up on the dunes to watch the sunset against the mountain backdrop. Sets of photographers with tripods. Couples on dune tops. Lone figures sitting atop crests. The great beauty of White sands defies words and will haunt my memory for all time as the Painted Desert does. As we left the sun set slowly in a notably colorful display. Setting off against the grey purple mountains in reds, oranges, yellows, plums and peaches. Just when I thought the show was over we crested a mountain and found the colors even more overwhelming. They lingered in deep hues of crimson and plum before succumbing to the horizon while the moon rose gold and moody among the wisps of clouds to the east.

Truth or Consequences

December Decorations, T or C, New Mexico

With little expectations or plans we headed into the town of Truth or Consequences for supplies. Shortly after hitting downtown I could tell that this town had a different vibe to it. Everywhere adobe buildings in southwestern colors. Murals (60+). Vibrant details. And a thriving art scene. We were able to stop into a few galleries, sadly not all that T or C had to offer! And we were lucky enough to show up on their Second Saturday Art Hop. The galleries we saw had quality art works at a broad range of price points, friendly to all art admirers. One artist (Sun Gallery) was hand painting stickers for just a few dollars each and said she “wanted art to be accessible to everyone.”

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Gila National Forest

Outside of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico we headed west across highway 152 into the Gila National Forest. The land crested from gentle desert hills to magnificent up-swelled rock formations. Sometime in the not too distant past a wildfire swept through this area. Distant enough for the mountaintop forest to be well into stages of healing. I was enchanted by the scrappy trees. Tenacious species of oak, juniper, and ponderosa pines hugging the steep rocky mountain roadsides.

Local species of tree adapted to survive forest fires

Poncho Villa State Park, Columbus, New Mexico & and The Border

Within three miles of the border the Poncho Villa State Park sits alongside the highway. Historical ruins from the 1916 raid by Poncho Villa reside within the park and throughout the small town of Columbus.

Ruins from Poncho Villa raid. Columbus, New Mexico

The other story is of a town divided by politics. During George W. Bush’s presidency the border went up there and divided a community. That’s not from newspaper reports, that’s from casual conversations with local people. People who visit their American friends that live across the border for economic reasons. People who shop across the border in Mexico for their medical needs and groceries because it is all more affordable. Mexican children and children with American citizenship cross the border every school day for their education.

My husband and I crossed the Border by foot. The wait by car was much longer and we were told its just easier. First we were diverted into a building by a man pointing, across the way I could see a Mexican official with a nasty gun set against the backdrop of the border fence and reals of extra razor wire. The officials just asked if we were visiting the Pink Store. The local tourist trap “with everything.” Then we walked out the other side into Mexico. There were people walking about everywhere. A man selling hats out of his van. And the giant complex Pink Store with a mature Indian woman opening the door for us, later she’ll hold her hand out for a tip when we leave.

Columbus, New Mexico
Pink Store, Pueto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico
Pink Store, Pueto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico
Pueto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico

City of Rocks

Enormous. Vertical. Sculptural. Texture. Why would people create Stonehenge? This is why. The stones may be inanimate objects of nature brought to by time, volcanic action and erosion, but they still converse with the human spirit.

While there we climbed the neighboring Table Mountain. And this human felt mighty small under the open sky of New Mexico on top of a little mountain looking down at her little home on wheels dwarfed by rocks. It isn’t like the hikes back home where the trees obscure the journey and you just keep going until you get to the top. On this one you can see just what sort of madness your in for and all you can do is put one foot in front of the other while fighting for breath at the extra elevation you’re not accustomed to.