Essay: Eulogy for a Truck

Art Journal, The Road

It was always a good possibility that we would leave home for the road with Truck, but not return with him. (Yes I think of my husband’s large white diesel truck as Truck and a him, for no clear reason).

In the town and with the people I grew up with, a person’s car was often as much a part of their identity as their personal style. Truck has been a part of my life since I met my husband in 2009. Kurt somehow had all the qualities I wanted in a partner (not that I was looking!). So I joked to myself (never out loud) if he rode a white horse the deal is done. Then I saw he was driving a big white truck and I figured that had to be close enough.

Over the years Truck has been a problem. There was us stuck in the middle of no where in a sugar sand back road because Truck is more of an Egyptian pyramid stacking brick than an ideal off-road vehicle. Oh Truck could tow, but was not created as a 4 wheel drive, a much needed aspect of having a truck in the north. Lucky for us a plucky 4wd came along and pulled Truck out of the predicament. While me and Kurt’s kids watched.

Kurt came home with a topper for Truck so our dog at the time, Baby, would be able to travel around with us, especially back and forth downstate. The particles of that topper are still with us. It fell apart and had to be dismantled for the trash. Not all of it made it yet…

I had to buy a car (instead of a tiny truck like my Tacoma) so Kurt could make efficient monthly trips downstate. While I was more than happy to make that sacrifice, I would be left with Truck. And often you could find me laying in a mid-winter snow bank crying next to Truck. Truck idling on a sheet of ice with cat litter scattered around all the tires, chunks of wood, carpet remnants, and whatever other idea I could come up with to get the giant useless block to move. I failed time and time again to move that mule. 5,000 pounds of two wheel drive.

I gave Truck it’s first dent down the side of the bed. Years later Kurt gave the other side a perfect match.

Truck, paused at the top of a mountain near Oatman, AZ.

You could find me attempting to park the beast in any lot, with any amount of room. Then watch me walk away cackling, swinging the keys, as that extended cab With an eight foot foot bed careened across however many spaces I needed. Of course I was parking away, far, far away from the doors, way over yonder.

I had to run errands with the step-daughter and in the middle of traffic Truck starts smoking inside the cab with that telltale electrical fire smell. I know things here and there about cars and their problems, but cars smoking and maybe on fire? Nope. It was a panic response to get the kid safely out of Truck, then we had to wait an hour for Kurt to come. It was luckily only the end of the speakers. I think one one worked, sometimes. Maybe. We haven’t listened to the radio in months on this trip.

When we were still driving in Michigan, when our road adventure was fresh, there was foreshadowing of Truck’s doom. The engine light came on briefly and then we forgot about it.

Until Death Valley.

When the engine light comes on there things get complicated. We just finished coming from Racetrack Playa, which was 26 miles (52 miles round trip) of washboard gravel one way. We had 60 miles of moonlit desert blacktop to drive when the check engine light came on announcing the end of the alternator. We waited four days for a new alternator to be delivered to the Post Office and Kurt had to be there waiting for it. But it didn’t work. And Kurt did things. We drove Truck with a charged battery to civilization and got a part to regulate the charging, for whatever reason the truck’s brain was going bad. That fix caused over charging.

After days of Kurt fiddling and researching…

The end has come for Truck, 2000 Dodge 2500 with 396,451 miles in Las Vegas, Nevada. All the things wrong and all the things we needed from a vehicle just made it impossible to keep Truck on the road.

No more crooked driver side seat. No more cracked windshield. No more “shut the radio off, I can’t understand it.” No more rattling rusty Michigan body. No more fighting with the tail gate. Or the doors that were possessed. On the other hand we definitely didn’t attract the wrong attention. No one was looking at Truck and thinking “I want what they have inside.” I’m sure it was thief repellent.

Truck, you were there for our first date and us falling in love driving around seeing the sights in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. You kept us safe on long trips. Hauled all the materials we needed to fix our house. Rescued the other cars when they broke down. And you got us over 10,000 miles across the country.

So long Truck.

Last view.
Kurt’s flair.

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.

Thoughts from the Road: Self Reflection

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

The question is does travel change you?

We were thrust into a situation where our options were all less than appetizing so we went all in on the idea of traveling. Go West to find some future, like so many people before us. In the beginning it felt like we were merely fleeing the brutal winters of home. Then it felt like an extended vacation. Now I’ve reached a tipping point.

I go West. I go West in search of something more than. At the crest of this tipping point I find my head and heart. The true being in my form sizzles at my skin longing for its release from the long prison. Somewhere in this life I put away my truer self. I put her away. I contained that wild artist child. I tried to be many different people. I put on different masks hoping to blend into environments I never quite understood.

As a child I was wild. And creative. I ran unsupervised in a pink dress and sparkly jelly shoes. I trashed clothes because my whims decided My-Little-Ponies needed outfits. I drew cats with long tails and white tips. But I hid that child away. I grew up in a home where alcoholism and anger reigned hand-in-hand. I took that wonderful wild child and hid her away because I wanted to fade into the background. Instead I quietly continued to grow stronger in my creative abilities.

Long term travel by truck and travel trailer is slow. Well, we (my husband, two dogs, a cat and I) are slow. We stop for the dogs. We stop for the sights. We stop for lunch. We stop because we want to spend a few days somewhere. We decide to see half of Texas when we didn’t even want to go there in the first place. Instead of a vast dangerous wilderness filled with indigenous tribes; I’ve found reservations marked on maps, old roads, weathered abandoned houses, rusted cars, forgotten towns, endless fences, rampaging cities, tourist holes, scenic campgrounds with all the modern conveniences and whispers of the wild and savage past trampled by docile tourists.

I also find myself with this time. Finally, the time to think. Throughout the years I always wanted to take time off of work to just think, if I could just take those days I could figure it out. IT. Whatever it was. What I wanted? What I was thinking? There was this something I needed time for. Hours, days and apparently even weeks were not enough for me. I needed to be removed entirely from my life.

Wherever you go there you are.

Finally…

There I am

A complex damaged resilient creature with a drive to create….

What have I learned about myself in these weeks?

I feel a budding inside of the artist. She’s almost ready. Almost done cooking. The elements are all there stewing. I’ve seen works in small galleries, big galleries, and museums. I’m feeling more confident that there is something particular to me. My artist voice is about to mature. This time of travel and reflection is a gift I cannot ignore.

Subjects/Themes/Topics coming into sharp focus:

  • Melancholy over what the earth has lost to human inhabitation and the perpetual growth economy
  • Celebration of nature reclaiming man’s work
  • Appreciation of nature: wonder, joy, awe
  • Sadness over human sprawl across the landscape and a yearning for freedom from modern human artifacts
  • Enjoyment of the living creatures around me plant and animal
  • Capturing the essence of my subject in medium/media available (photography, acrylic, ink, color pencil etc.)

The answer:

Everything changes us. I came West to be changed.