31 January 2008

Today has been rough

It has been five months since my dad died. I was not certain. I had to count on my fingers to figure it out.

Sometimes it feels like such a long time. Sometimes it feels like it just happened.

Cancer can be so hard on everyone. Both my parents had a brush with it. My father had colon cancer 14 years ago, and survived, miraculously considering the growth in his colon was the size of a large grapefruit. No one expected him to make it. My mother at that time had just lost her sister to pancreatic cancer and a good friend to ovarian cancer, and when she heard the doctor say that my dad had cancer she just sort of shut down. I had just moved back into their household with my five kids (ages 5 - 15), and was working full-time and going to school full-time too. I ended up at times being the primary caretaker for my dad since my mother had such a problem with it all. She had to disconnect a bit in order to get through it all. She knew it but could not help it. It was okay, after all. It was a way to get past it and go on.

About 7 years ago my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer (which did not show up adequately enough for a diagnosis on a mammogram until she'd had it for around two years). This time she was as solid as a rock about it all. I do not know if it was because it was her and not someone she loved that was facing it or what the reason was for the stoic and peaceful approach to the diagnosis and treatments. Perhaps it was because my father had survived his cancer... Maybe inside she was just as upset and simply did not feel she should burden us with that. I was not there much. I do not know.

Anyway she is healthy right now and has been for years now.

However, my father, during a routine checkup at the veteran’s hospital this past June, was told he had some "suspicious" spots in his right lung and something strange on one of his ribs. Next step, bone scans and more tests. In late July the diagnosis came back: Small Cell Lung Cancer - Stage IV, metastasized to left thigh, ribs, spine, left hip and skull, inoperable, 9 months maximum life expectancy. This time my mother took care of everything. Things that no one wants to do. I could not be there this time. I could not help very much at all.

I currently live 600 miles from my parents. It takes between 10 & 11 hours to get there by automobile. My father died on August 31st at 8:45pm. I was somewhere in the middle of central Illinois, trying like mad to get there. I pulled into their driveway just before midnight. They had already taken my father’s body away. My mother fought with them trying to get them to wait for me. But the law required the hospice workers to remove his body from the home immediately.

For me, one of the hardest things about his death was that I waited until noon, because of some stupid meeting at work, to leave Minnesota and drive down to Indiana.

My daily battle is against the tendency to let that fact swamp me and take precedence over the fact that my family went to visit him as many weekends as we could during June, July and August and had wonderful visits, full of stories, tears and laughter each and every time. I did have some time to be with him with full knowledge that his days were limited and I would not be able to be with him any more.

The days that I can remember that go well.


24 January 2008

More Bird Art

WoodBird, 2008, encaustic on driftwood, 6" x 2" x 30"

Another piece working with bird imagery - albeit in a very abstract manner. Although it is not very apparent in the photograph, the lines for the bird follow the grain patterns (head and body) and cracks (legs and feet) in the wood. You can sort of see this in the abstract feet of the bird. On the actual piece of driftwood the grain is very noticeable - with some of the grain swollen by the long submersion in the Mississippi River, and some parts eaten away by that submersion. In the photograph the dark circles are knots in the wood.

Some of the colors here are from my own paints. The colors that I have been making have mostly been from pre-ground purchased pigments that I have mixed with melted beeswax and damar resin.

When Abelisto's hives get established I will try using our own beeswax and propolis instead of damar resin. Propolis is a substance created by bees that is made up of resins found around the blossoms and buds on trees and at sites of wounds on trees. The bees change it chemically a bit, and use it as "glue" for sealing gaps in the hive and covering foreign objects. They use it to weatherproof the hive. Propolis is what gives beeswax its color and odor. Abelisto thinks that early encaustic painters probably did not add tree resins to their paints, but that they incorporated propolis into the mixture. It could have been purposely added, but most likely it was just part of what would have been considered wax, which would normally happen in a wild or unframed hive. If an analysis of the paints in early encaustic paintings was done, the scientists may have mistakenly thought the resins in the paints had been added - especially if the research was done by someone who did not know that much about bees. If a person was using purified beeswax you would need to add resins. The resins keep the wax from "blooming" when subjected to temperature changes (think refrigerated chocolate bar).

Just thinking about it I realized that since I am mixing my paints using unpurified beeswax I may not need to be adding damar crystals anyway. The ratio of wax to damar crystals should be between 8:1 and 10:1 by weight.

Of course I could be totally wrong about this. I will have to experiment with it. One thing is for certain; any paintings I do will certainly be subjected to pretty substantial temperature changes. Right now the house is hovering around 60 degrees (on purpose, that is what we set the thermostat at - outside is below zero, for the 13th day in a row), and during the summer it sometimes gets above 90 inside (we do not use air conditioning). So if my paints are going to be prone to blooming I am certain to see it.


23 January 2008

Bird Art

Heron, 2008, encaustic on driftwood, 12" x 4" x 28", views of both sides of sculpture

The Flock, 2008, encaustic on paper, approx 17 x 22", mostly handmade encaustic paints. Work-in-process.

Don't have much time for posting right now. I am teaching an advanced graphic design class in a few minutes. Just wanted to get these two images up of the most recent work I have been doing.

The Flock is a painting I have been trying to actualize for months. I wanted to speak to diversity in community and this image (out of all the images inside my head) seemed to keep coming to the front of the stack...

Heron was a more spontaneous creation. Months ago - before the world here was covered in ice and snow - Abelisto and I went beach combing at a park along the Mississippi River. I picked up one particularly gnarly piece of driftwood (probably a root section) thinking that some creature was present in the wood. After months of laying around in my studio it finally decided to let me know what it was and that I was holding it upside down when I would pick it up. Initially I thought the thicker part was the head/top part and the long skinny part was the tail... shows you how wrong you can be when you make unsupported assumptions...

more later


15 January 2008

Made more paint

Last night and tonight I worked on making some paint for a painting I want to do. The painting is of some exotic birds - unreal birds. I needed some intense colors as well as some additional beak and bill colors. I am trying not to use the toxic, heavy metal-based paints. These encaustic paints are all colored with simple earths and/or synthetic, opalescent dry pigments.

I melted and mixed 10 parts well filtered beeswax, 1 part damar crystals (sticky, messy stuff, that...) and 1-3 parts pigments. You can see the small stainless steel bowls (around 2.5 inches diameter at the top) sitting on an electric griddle. It takes about 3 hours to get the mixture melted and mixed well enough to keep the pigments suspended in the wax/resin medium. I try to heat it very slowly on barely enough heat to get it flowing. Too much heat can release harmful volatile gases into the atmosphere (and my lungs). Not a good thing.

If the bird painting comes out decently I will share it here. I think it was almost as much fun to make the paints as painting the picture will be...


07 January 2008

Bindi the jungle girl

Okay, I admit it. I was (am) a fan of Steve Irwin the Crocodile Hunter. I know he was a geek, but he was such an entertaining geek. I spent several New Year's Eves watching the 24-hour Crocodile Hunter marathons. Animal Planet and Discovery channel (and maybe the History channel) are the only things I miss about television. Although I thought Project Runway was sort of interesting when I watched it in Las Vegas at my daughter's house.

Anyway, I do not know where Steve Irwin fell on the scale of actually doing good things for the sake of the planet, but he had lots of passion that I do not think was only geared towards making money. I think he was truly moved to work for the welfare of the world and everything in it, particularly animals that most people want to exterminate.

Maybe I am naive, but I liked watching him blunder about in his all-out, wild disdain-for-pain frenzy, finding one more "gorgeous" animal for us to see...

Today I read about his daughter, Bindi. I do not know exactly what I think about her stepping up to the plate in her father's name. I think it is hard for me to disengage the loss of a father with how I react to this story. Thinking about losing a father at such a young age makes me a bit shaky and weepy anyway. It is hard enough when you are 50...

If it is true, as her mother states, that Bindi loves doing this and that if Bindi decided one day that it was not fun any more she would stop doing it, then I think it is okay. Maybe.

Child stars usually make me uncomfortable - or rather the making of child stars makes me uncomfortable. I worry that they do not get the chance to just be kids. Not knowing what goes into all the filming for Bindi's or any other child star's performances, I cannot even begin to evaluate her mother's claims that Bindi is fine, loves what she's doing and all will be well.

The strangest complaint in the NY Times story is the one that people are making about being weirded out by Steve Irwin clips interspersed throughout the show. That does not bother me at all. If my father had left me a legacy, and if I were stepping in to continue it, and if there were film clips of him doing it, you can bet your ass that I would show the clips too.

Do people hold it against the local merchant when they proudly display photographs of the three generations of family who have owned and operated the hardware store? Or use home movies in the television advertisements for those businesses?

Then again, I may just still be enamored of out-and-out audacity of Steve Irwin. Crikey!


01 January 2008

My father met my mother 52 years ago yesterday

Called my mother last night right before we went to the party. Wanted to wish her happy new year and to let her know that I found out it would be better/easier/quicker if she transfered the title to the truck into her name in Indiana rather than trying to transfer it out of her and his name and into mine here in Minnesota. So tomorrow I am mailing the title back to her.

While we were on the phone she told me what/how everyone in Indiana is doing. Then she told me the story about how she met my father 52 years ago. I never knew how they met.

She said...

"You know, it was 52 years ago tonight that I met your dad. I'm a bit sad tonight, thought I might go do something special, but I'm sitting here with the dog, just watching tv.

"Anyway, Rosie (my aunt) and I were wondering what we were going to do for New Year's eve. I was 19, Rosie was 18. We were walking down 4th street, trying to decide. Your father was driving by and he pulled over to talk to us.

"It wasn't that he was pulling over to talk to two strange girls, he wasn't like that you know. He knew Rosie. She was dating his cousin Harry, and they had met a while back. Anyway, he knew Rosie, and I guess he knew of me, but we had never met.

"He smiled at us and after a few minutes of chatting, asked what we were doing for the evening. We told him we were still trying to decide. He asked us if we would like to go to a movie. So we did.

"He took both of us to the movie. Your father was like that - he was always very good to your aunt Rosie. We had a good time that night."


Sometime later, 4 or 5 months later I think, he wrote her a sweet, sweet note
I love you very much and want to marry you.
They were married in June, 1955.

She still has the note. I've seen it.


New year's eve

Actually it is new year's day, but I have not gone to bed yet.

Abelisto and I went to a progressive party. I had never heard of progressive parties (other than the green party) before I lived up here in Minnesota.

We started at 6:30 at one colleague's home where all sorts of hors d' oeurves were served - mostly cheese and crackers and some sort of Greek savory cheesecake - at least I think it was Greek - whatever it was, it was excellent. The house was a large and lovely house, but it was a bit off-putting that a single man lived in a house that would cheerfully contain a large family. It made me ever so more mindful of the fact that if the kids ever move out (sigh) we really need to either do some serious searches for house-mates, sell the house, or donate it to the local Catholic Worker house. It was clear the colleague was in the chemistry department, not the environmental studies department...

Everyone left that house just around 8:45 and went to the next colleague's home - he teaches modern languages (French & Spanish) and his wife is Argentinian. It was a much more modest home, but it was definitely more homey and interesting. The previous home felt rather antiseptic and sterile... Anyway at the second home the food was tacos/burritos. Having been forewarned by our second hostess during the hors d' oeuvres part of the night that they had not prepared anything for vegetarians, I ate as much of the hors d' oeuvres as I felt I needed for the evening. Turns out I could have made a very nice veggie burrito at the second home, but since I had eaten so much I refrained. I did have some arroz con leche, just to see what Mexican rice pudding was like. The television was tuned to the Music Choice of the 70's station - not having television, it amazed me that you could get what essentially was radio on the television. Anyway, a few of us ended up dancing for the last 45 minutes or so at that colleague's home. His wife was so thrilled that people actually danced in her home.

At around 11ish we went to the third and final home of the evening where dessert was served. Those of us that were dancing in the previous home promptly changed the television from the sports channel to the Party Favorites music channel and kept dancing. We danced until nearly 2 am, stopping briefly at midnight to hug and smooch everyone in the room. Occasionally we stopped to listen and participate in the discussions that were going on - but I get tired of talking about work and the university and the palace intrigue there - even obnoxious 80's music is more interesting than talking about the bitch in this department or the moron in that department or the bozos in administration. There was one interesting discussion at the first house about religion, Christ and social justice between the feminist French teacher and the Bible scholar and his wife. I am not very knowledgeable of the Bible - certainly not well-versed enough to discuss it with a Bible scholar - so I just listened. Besides, it was not a discussion for an agnostic like me.

Anyway, it is way past the time for going to bed. Happy New Year y'all.