Welcoming Grace

July 29, 2007

(No, we didn’t get another dog! )

Sometimes it seems that the more effort I put into achieving a goal, the more it eludes me. And yes, to achieve anything one has to work toward it!  Yet I believe that letting go, not forcing, and trust also have their parts to play in this process of creating a desired result.

I’m at the end of M.Scott Peck’s book, ‘The Road Less Travelled’.  I can’t say I am enamoured of all his ideas, but one thing he said is helping me with this dilemma: 

‘Buddha found enlightenment only when he stopped seeking for it- when he let it come to him. On the other hand, who can doubt that enlightenment came to him precisesly because he had devoted at least sixteen years of his life to seeking it, sixteen years in preparation?’.

Besides my free lance work, I have spent the last 15 years gradually working toward creating some kind of channel for me (and others) to work as creatives in healthcare situations. A friend and mentor said to me she felt that I had built up such a momentum that things would probably explode exponentially when they finally took off. I hope so.

But a few setbacks with my plans have made me pull back and reassess what battles I want to take on and which ones to leave. It seems that my current course brings me up against too much resistance from the entrenched healthcare systems here in Holland.

I want to find a way with more grace and less struggle in it. 

Peck says about the Buddha and enlightenment,

‘He had to both seek for it and not seek for it’.


July 27, 2007


Lucie with ear off center

Evidently the position of the ears is of great concern to breeders and people who show dogs. Lucie’s left ear was hanging somewhere between her left and right eye when we first saw her.  In this picture it is changing again and today it is perfectly symmetrical with the other ear.  For us it doesn’t matter, really. Just as long as she is healthy and well behaved. It seems too, that while they are changing teeth in a few months from now, the ears will also go through a changeable period. One up one down. Two up. Two down, etc.

We like them folded in typical foxy fashion, but Livvy’s ears stood straight up and we loved them like that, too.


July 25, 2007

So you get poop and pee and aggravation with a new puppy, that is obvious.

What is less visible is the enormous, unending supply of love that comes with it.

We have had dogs for all but 2 years of our 22 year partnership/marriage.  These last 5 months without a dog in the house I hadn’t realized what I’d been missing until Lucie came into our lives.

She is an infinite source of unconditional love every minute of her existence. If we have her for her life expectancy of 12-17 years, let’s say 12 years- that is 4380 days of love from morning until night.

I want to be aware/awake enough to treasure every minute of it.



We are still living in a sort of haze of non-stop activity as we adjust to having the dog here and she gets used to us.

Even though she regularly spends quiet time in the ‘bench’ ( a sort of puppy play-pen), raising her to be a well-behaved animal demands extra time and energy. And housetraining is a full time job!  Letting her out every hour or so precludes any kind of sustained concentration (on anything else than Lucie of course!) so both of us have put our work on hold this week. Too bad they don’t have parental leave for owners of housepets.

Even though we manage to get her to do a lot outside, it was still a full day of cleaning up puddles inside (after continually standing in the rain with her for 10 minutes while she sniffed around and played). I was getting dinner ready and took my eyes off her for a moment and 2 minutes later discovered 3 more pees, and a poop that had been stepped in and tracked all over the house.  I was so beyond it, for a moment I just looked at the mess and just went on cooking dinner. R was tired and still working on closing off the back garden so he wasn’t available to bail me out this time.

Oh well, welcome to parenthood. 


July 23, 2007

On a bleak day in February this year we took our 16 year old deathly ill dog and companion for her final car ride. 
At the vet’s office, she took her last breath in our arms; then we drove several miles to the animal crematorium with her beautiful body ‘sleeping’  in the back (she still looked so alive, I kept turning around thinking she might still be breathing). The drive home with her empty basket was as awful as any we’ve ever known, and the empty house was worse.  

As of Saturday July 21, our house is no longer empty. There are newspapers strewn around the floors, and dog toys all over the place; in short it is total chaos.  Our brand new 12 week old fox terrier puppy has come to stay. And all my arguments about how much easier it would be without a dog, how much cleaner, more organized, and less binding have
evaporated in a few hours.

Picture from the breeder’s site  

All three of us are still shell-shocked, my husband, the dog and I! We had to drive 6 hours in total to pick her up at the breeders, and the adjustment from ‘no dog’ to a lively puppy is a big one. She needs to be let out several times at night and frequently during the day, and for all of us everything is new.

Having an animal to raise and care for does come with a price, but the rewards far outbalance the disadvantages. For us anyway. Our house is a mess, our routine is in shambles, but we are a family again. Welcome into our lives, Lucida Bright (Lucie for short). Pictures coming.  

Drawing is fun

July 13, 2007


E’s drawing from today’s lesson 

My 10 year old drawing student has been working very hard these last months. It takes concentration and discipline to learn to see what is in front of you and draw it on the paper. For our last lesson of the summer I wanted her to experience that drawing can also be easy.  Together we looked at my cyber-friend Michael Nobb’s drawings-  wonderful nonchalant pen sketches of everyday life and objects.   I liked her insight about his drawing of an empty glass, ‘It isn’t exactly ‘perfect’, but you can tell what it is’.

I set up a bunch of art materials for her to draw and a large (50 x 70 cm) sheet of paper. The assignment was to just enjoy drawing the objects in no special order, proportion or perspective. She worked directly on the page in permanent marker then added colour freely with a brush and drawing inks. The result is above, I like it very much.  

groceries1.jpg  Part of the point of this assignment was to also learn that an artist has many styles available to her. We looked at ‘Groceries’ by another cyber-friend, the South African writer Harry Kalmer.  Both Michael and I have done illustrations for this book and besides being a great collection of essays inspired by groceries, it contains a wealth of illustrations by international artists in a variety of styles. (It has been highly commended in South Africa, unfortunately I don’t have an English language link for it).

 Here is my Pentel Color Brush and wash sketch from the same session.



Photo by Sandra van den Berg from ‘Het Beter Gezelschap’

Imagine going into a healthcare facilitiy with this mission,’ Use your creativity to bring a smile to the face of  each person you meet’.

That is just what 9 of us, from ‘Het Beter Gezelschap’ (see a previous post ) did a few weeks ago in a multicultural elder home in The Hague (NL). The other part of the assignment is to focus on the healthy part of the person and the organisation. So we don’t go in as therapists or helpers, but more as trained entertainers and enablers.

 To give an idea of what this work is like, here are a few vignettes from the most recent event:

I gave a young Indonesian nurse a fimo clay charm to support her in an ‘as yet unrealized creative venture’. I asked her if she could think of one and she confided to me that she had always wanted to sing. I asked her if she would sing me something. In a precious moment, sitting together in the empty room of a resident, she sang me an Indonesian lullaby. 
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A woman was sitting alone in her room, strapped in her wheelchair, appearing apathetic.  She said I could come in, but didn’t want to do anything. She said she used to do crafts but she could no longer use her hands. It was difficult to communicate with her, but I ended up making her a paper rose (like the one in the photo).   She liked it so much, I made another one, but this time guided her hands in helping me apply the glue. We made two more with her increasing participation.  Just then, a nurse came in and the woman pointed proudly to the flowers and said, ‘See, I can still do something‘!
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I accompanied my friend Nava the clown. She is a small, fiery Jamaican lady with a wonderful personality full of warmth and humor.  We entered the residence of an Indonesian lady and saw she had her family visiting. We didn’t want to  interrupt her but all 3 women insisted we join them. Nava put on some gentle music and each person had a chance to ‘dance’ with Fifi. Fifi is a stuffed doll that wraps her arms around your neck and they stay there by way of velcro. Each of the women took turns holding that little rag doll as if it were a real child while they swayed to the soft Indonesian music. The atmosphere in that room was so tender, and I realized again that these moments are what this work is about. 
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I knocked on the door of a old man’s residence, at first he was was reluctant to let me in. He gestured to me that his hearing was bad, but I said we could just sit together and I could make him something. He was the perfect host- offering me something to drink and nibble on.  He had been a waiter on a large cruise ship. He told me about the compliments he got from the Captain for his service. Just before I left, he proudly pulled out a perfectly preserved diploma for catering on large ships, with his scores in serving, arranging food, serving wine, etc. 
He thanked me profusely for my visit but I thanked him for his hospitality and couldn’t have meant it more.

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People thank us for coming and for what we do, but after an event like this I always end up feeling like I’ve received so much.

Test revisited

July 6, 2007


Well, I feel rather sheepish, but I have to be honest.  I ended up accepting the harpsichord decoration commission. 

The customer (not the instrument maker) called me direct and asked if I would reconsider. He loved my work best out of the others they’d reviewed and he liked the idea of the instrument being built and decorated in the same village. I didn’t catch his name, but when he came over this afternoon it turns out he is a neighbor of ours.

It all clicked well, and the fact that they chose me for my work, and that it is turning into a kind of community project attracts me alot. I like the couple who commissioned the work and we will be consulting back and forth about the design and painting.

My husband will help me set up the 2 meters long instrument in the studio in such a way that my main work table is free for other work (to see my studio follow this link) . And in recent years I have been working more efficiently, so it should get done faster as well.  And the actual process of painting I adore.

Actually, it would be a dream commission if I looked at it from another perspective. So I think I will!

Stories that heal

July 3, 2007

Mark Helprin’s short story, ‘Monday’ in the collection ‘The Pacific and other stories’,  describes a situation where one can see the possibility of art triumphing over terrorism.

His story is set in the direct aftermath of 9/11 and is about a New York contractor hired to renovate an apartment in the city. His employer is a woman freshly widowed by the attack on the World Trade Towers. Helprin  describes how somehow this young woman’s drama has come to symbolize the whole event of 9/11 for everyone involved in the renovation work.  And instead of sliding into sentimentality, the writer presents a clear model of how honor, craftsmanship, compassion, and beauty can begin to heal even as dramatic a tragedy as this. 

The story takes every negative cliché about the building business and describes alternatives: suppliers give expensive materials for free, the contractor refuses to use anything but the best, most exclusive materials, the degree of craftsmanship borders on art,and the job is finished in perfection months before the deadline. During the building process small and large sacrifices are made by everyone involved- men stay overnight to start work as early as possible, families of the builders come with food, children, music to support their men, and laborers and craftsmen forfeit other lucrative projects to do this one for free. The entire crew and their families get caught up in a wave of communal action and dedication that lifts them above fatigue and financial considerations for week after week that they work on this job.

While the woman is on vacation , the apartment is transformed into a place of light, space and refuge.

 Helprin writes:

‘This would hardly bring back for Lilly what had been taken from her…and knowing it he would work furiously, as if it might.

‘…When it was finished…It was luxurious and yet it was modern and austere….Everything was in perfect balance..and when on Sunday they withdrew, leaving the surfaces polished and perfect, they knew much more than that the next day they would begoing to the big job at the U.N. Plaza and would once again be earning. They knew that they had made something beautiful, and because of this they were content.’

Lilly comes back and lets herself in to see what progress has been made. Alone and stunned she walks from room to room,

‘This could not be. It was a dream. How could he have worked so fast and so well? She was practiced in the close reading of complicated texts, and here was a work of art, in every detail of which the essential condition of art- as she believed it to be- shone through, and that was a beauty that arose from love.’

Artist as crucible

July 1, 2007

Recently, I started reading 3 books, none of which I finished.  One book had unconvincing characters. Another’s plot didn’t interest me, and in the third I sensed an undercurrent of unprocessed anger.

Not only does an author have to grab me with good writing, but I have to care almost immediately what happens to the characters. 
And even when these two things happen, above all, I need to trust the author.

Why, you might think, does a reader have to trust an author?  Well, because I start out on a journey with him or with her that might last for several hundered pages and a number of weeks.  Too many times I have stayed with an exceedingly well written book to be let down by a negative ending.  For example, when a character struggles with misfortune and nearly triumphs, then at the end gets slapped down anyway, what message does that give the reader about life?  I want the author to grapple with difficulty, evil, illness and death, but I read in order to learn how to deal with these better, not to be told that life is basically meaningless so why bother trying.

An artist/author is free to chronicle his/her pain. But untransformed pain is therapy, not art. I don’t have to read it or hang it on my walls.

An artist can be a crucible for the transformation of raw materials like pain and anger. Then art has a healing function instead of  just a reflecting one. Instead of underlining  how awful the society is, it says, ‘We’re all dealing with these kinds of difficult situations, here is meaning and inspiration for when things get tough’.   

I said as much in a lecture recently and  someone complained that I was defining what art should and should not be. She said that art should be totally free and that disturbing works also have their function.  I agree certain works raise consciousness. But those are usually motivated by a transformative goal.
Art as transformation is a path I choose for myself, no one else. I discuss the merits of it so that others can think about it as well. And I think that art as a disturbing provocative act actually is part of the old artist archetype and even now is giving way to new, more reconciliatory forms of art.