Paintings on the Ceiling

Paintings on the Ceiling

Every now and then an odd artistic idea drifts into my head and I have an overwhelming impulse to turn the idea into something real, beginning immediately even if it takes several weeks or months or even years to complete.

I think most creative people recognize this feeling, and I think most can also identify some of the emotions that trigger it.

For me, some of the most common creative emotional triggers are also some of the saddest or most negative: loneliness and sorrow, frustration and stress.

toothpicksFor example, one time after a particularly stressful and irritating week at work, I hand-painted a few hundred toothpicks and then arranged them in a pattern I then glued together and hung on my living room wall. When I was going through my divorce, I spent several months refurbishing an old farmhouse window pane by mounting decoupaged family photographs (including one of my ex-husband) in the panes; I did this to remind and redefine family for myself.

window

 

But it is not depressive thoughts or sadness that compels me to creative; rather, it is creativity that helps me work through those emotions. The work I’ve created in these states is meditative, highly personal, and ultimately very therapeutic.

The most recent example of this is something I’ve been working on in my head for quite a while but put into reality this weekend.

ceiling

 

The idea is a series of 1×1 acrylic paintings on stretched canvas, each of them with some sort of 3-dimensional embellishment (a table and chairs in one; a mirror in another, etc.), mounted onto the ceiling in a grid in my library.

I made four of the paintings this weekend. My intention is to continue to add more to the ceiling as I paint them, eventually covering the whole room. I think that will take about 100 paintings, total.

As I said, I’ve been thinking about this sort of idea for awhile – toying off-and-on with the thought of building a miniature “set” of a room in my house and then mounting it from the ceiling in that room, so that when you’re sitting in that room and look up, you’re looking at an inverted tiny version of your environment. And I might still do that one day.

maproomBut then I thought I could go ahead and do something interesting to the ceiling, including with 3D elements, in a simpler format using paintings. My daughter and I went to Rome this summer, and my favorite part of the Vatican Museum was the Map Room, where the ceilings are inlaid with a series of encrusted paintings and priceless frames. It’s a different, more extravagant look than the austerity of Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel.

NOT that my paintings are anything remotely like the Vatican! :)

paintingsMy paintings – at least the four I made this weekend – are abstract representations of my grandmother, who is in hospice care in Auburn, Ala. One is blue and green squares in a post-modern pattern that makes me think of a couple of rooms in her house on the lake, including one our family calls “the green room”, which is furnished with an avocado green bedroom suite from the 50s. This painting has a little coffee cup in it. In my mind, it is spiked with Tia Maria, which was our custom when my grandmother was well. The second painting has a table and two chairs and a painted woven rug like the one in her living room. The third has flowers and a gold mirror. She told me last weekend a story about looking at herself in the mirror and having a conversation with her mother, whom she resembles more and more every day. And the fourth is a tree of life with a clock mounted in it. I think the oldest antique in her house is a clock that belonged to her great grandparents and is one of the few items of value that remained after a long-ago family property dispute. Like many elderly people, she repeats this story, and all of her stories, like it’s the first time we’ve heard them. But that’s okay. One day we will miss it. I think we already do.

Working on this weird little project has been a way to be close to my grandmother and work through some emotions I have about the journey she is on. Art can most certainly be therapeutic, and even if you are not an artist (I’m a creative person, but certainly don’t consider myself an artist), spending some time creating with your hands can be intensely helpful. For me, it’s usually painting or crafting of some sort, though I know others get this same release from cooking, woodworking, sewing, etc. Whatever your preferred medium, I hope this post offers some value to folks who might be looking for productive ways to deal with complex emotions.

Step One: Remind yourself how large the world is

68383_10151843397101428_996456006_n

A moment from 2014 that stands out to me:

It was mid-January and my friends in Nashville had been enduring a cold snap while Chuck Ellis and I sipped bottomless pina coladas on Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. On Punta Cana in January, it was in the mid-80s all week — sunny, a nice breeze, unspoiled. We ate whatever we wanted, drank whatever we wanted, went topless, slept late, went for walks, got lost on the beach, etc. We had one of the most revelatory conversations of our relationship during a session at a swim-up bar, seriously. It was an important week for us.

But it did take me about four days to stop checking email constantly, and I never did stop checking it altogether.

At home, three colleagues and I had just launched 12th & Broad, an experiment combining media, real-life experiences, community, philanthropy and advertising. It was the first time our parent company had given me the opportunity to brainstorm, plan and launch a business unit from scratch. My background is in journalism. As a reporter, editor, columnist and newsroom leader, I had 15 years experience writing and helping craft pieces and projects about other people’s personal adventures and business ventures. But this was the first time I, myself, was doing such a thing. Continue reading

Unpopular Choices for the Right Reasons

Bravery comes in many forms, but “people who made unpopular choices for the right reasons” is apparently not a common Google search term.

So says my daughter, who – for a family project about dealing with peer pressure – put together a research paper on people who have made such decisions.

Her choices are both historic and very modern.

AND she built it in PowerPoint, which is all the more awesome.

Here it is – with a blog title optimized for the next kid who’s asked to write such a paper.

Why We Miss Our Childhood Houses

Mom and Dad's house, where I grew up.

Mom and Dad’s house, where I grew up.

With a sizable percentage of people under 40 having moved here in the past three years from some other place, I am one of the increasingly smallish number of youngish people who can say I am from Nashville.

Of course, as real Nashvillians will tell me, I am NOT actually from here. I am FROM Mt. Juliet, which is 20 miles to the east of downtown, in Wilson County. Mt. Juliet – known now for rapidly growing mixed-use residential-commercial developments like Providence and Del Webb – is where my parents moved when I was 6 and my brother was 3.

In May, I will have had a 615 area code for 31 years.

My parents are about to trade theirs in. They are putting their house on the market, and they plan to move to Auburn, Ala., when it sells. My mom’s family is in Auburn, and she is going home.

The emotion I’ve felt about this has caught me by surprise. Continue reading

12 years old; My heart in her hands

I am cleaning up her room so we can redecorate it as a Christmas present. I’m sorting through her clothes and books for things that don’t fit or suit her any more than do the pale pink walls and kitten-themed quilt on her bed.

Same as me, she leaves her private journals strewn about in plain sight. I wonder what she’s written there, and how much of it is an indictment of my parenting skills verses boys she is crushing on. I wonder if my mother  wondered the same about me at these ages – me at 12 going on 25, she at some spot in her 30s I couldn’t be bothered to keep straight. I do remember writing something like, “When I am a mom, I will NOT do these things…”

And I made a list I’m sure I’ve betrayed.

Her bulletin board is tacked with swim medals and dream catchers made in summer camps she doesn’t want to attend anymore, and also writing by me, for her.

The meaning she assigns her favorite objects: I wonder how different it is from what I’ve assigned those things, or if she’s assigned any such meaning at all. I wonder how annoyed she’d be if she knew I was in her room at all, much less thinking about her things.

Last week she told me she didn’t want to spend Christmas with me, then she begged me to take her Christmas shopping.

Cleaning out her closet, I found two of my dresses and a pair of my heels.

The other morning, she asked me to french braid her hair for school. I don’t french braid, but I tried. She scowled and rearranged it into a ponytail, then complained that we were going to be late, then freaked out upon realizing we’d be further delayed by me having to scrape the ice from the windshield. “I will be late and they won’t let me take my midterm!”

She shouted it was my fault, I shouted louder that it was hers, and we arrived at school – on time and unspeaking.

I called my mother and asked how long and frustrating this phase of our lives would be, and Mom and I talked for an hour.

I love-love her, like you like-like certain boys at her age: beyond the day-to-day and with bittersweetness.

Tomorrow she’ll be someone else I’ll love just as much.

More.

How To Not Be Irritated With Your Family During Christmas

20131201-121318.jpg

20131201-121251.jpg

Friends are people who know you as you’ve come to be, and family are people who knew you as you were coming along.

For a lot of adult children, this distinction is clear and very painful during the holidays. Through perceived or real guilt trips levied by their parents, they feel tugged to return to their families of origin to participate in traditions of their youth, giving up the cozy familiarity of their present day friends who know things like, for example, that they question the very religion that is grounds for this current holiday season. Or that we’ll be quitting the job that pays our bills. Or we’ve been having a fling – it’ll end soon! – with a cokehead drummer. Things they wouldn’t want to discuss with their parents. But I’d ask: why not?

It’s tough to be intimate with people who don’t know how you think, what pushes you and pisses you off, what makes you sparkle and what you hold most dear. It’s tougher when those people feel an assumed closeness to you simply because you share DNA or a childhood.

It’s also frustrating and borderline insulting when families do not encourage or in some cases even allow their grown children to establish their own traditions and customs.

But I think the onus is on the kids – us grown-up, navel-gazing, parent-pleasing “kids” in our 20s, 30s and even our 40s, often with kids of our own – to work this out with our parents.

If we want to enjoy our time with them (or for everyone to be cool with having time apart) during the holidays or other times, we have to let them know us as our friends do: as the people we have become.

For me, this comes from asking – and being willing to answer – meaningful questions of my parents and extended family.

But I know from being around other less verbal people (including members of my own family), that closeness can also develop over cards or football, a raunchy board game, on a pontoon boat with cocktails, walking around a golf course, cooking a meal together, listening to records, and writing letters (real ones, in the mail).

We expect the world from our families, especially our parents. It’s a valid expectation; they brought us into the world and, assuming the best, they raised us mostly right.

But we can’t expect them to keep up with all our changes – to know intimately whom, exactly, they’ve raised – unless we share ourselves with them.

Parents, grandparents, adult children… we are all adults now. We can act the part instead of assuming the roles we did as kids, and we’ll all be closer and more empathetic.

Footnote: the photos above are from Christmas 2011. One is of friends around a table in Oak Bar at the Hermitage Hotel – a tradition we started five years ago as a friends group. The other is of my family, in my dining room. Our family has several established holiday traditions, but we are flexible. That year, everyone drove or flew to Nashville to be at my house so my daughter could be with both her (very recently divorced) parents.

Things I Want My Daughter To Know About Sex

Some friends and I were discussing this article about whether parents should feel comfortable with their teenagers having sex in their homes. I personally would not.

But certainly what I do support is making sure that as my daughter grows up, she knows what I think about the issue – not about sex in my house, specifically, but more importantly my thoughts on sex in a woman’s life in general.

Here are some things I’d like her to know:

Continue reading